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Generated: Jun 16, 2019 6:29 PM
Post last updated: Jun 16, 2019 6:29 PM
if you seek heaven or earth
dragon ellie in narutoverse
Permalink Eye

She's sunning herself on a rock spike near the western edge when it happens. Not too close to the edge, because the point of sunning herself is to relax and being too close to the Void is the opposite of relaxing, but far enough that the ogre settlement is between her and the gronn and the arrakoa and anyone else who would want to interrupt her. The peaceful ogres, to be clear, not those rowdy drunks in the south. They're not like to disturb her nap either.

Thus it is that the brief instant of disorientation and the abrupt sense of dislocation takes her completely by surprise. She is awake and on her feet the next second, scanning her new surroundings for danger.

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She's in a fairly mountainous region, apparently on the eastern slope of a tall, forested range. The jagged spires to her west stab into the sky, bones of enormous animals - some likely even larger than her in life - decorating their slopes in a few places in the distance. The foothills to the east are less jagged, and seem to have the occasional break in the trees that might indicate farmland. There's a faint glimmer of water to the far north, and forest as far as the eye can see to the south. It's daytime, and the blue sky's clear except for a few lazy clouds.

The earth feels very, very different.

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It is far, far too quiet. Even in Outland, shattered as it was, there was always the quiet and disjoint rumbles of dormant elementals. She reaches out and in, feeling the character of the earth. Topsoil and bedrock, crust and mantle. All is as it should be, the world is whole... except that it is dead. She knows not of any magic that could have done this. Twisting the elements, mangling them, yes, but not banishment.

She looses a bellowing roar and pulls a plume of magma up into the hill beneath her. She is no Aspect, but she can build this hill up.

Rise, mountains.

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Slowly, reluctantly, the mountains rise.

(In the distance there is a rather significant amount of alarm.)

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Good. Good. Perhaps, in time, this land can come to be healed.

She curls up at the top of her new perch, to await what locals may come.

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A human - perhaps in his late teens - approaches at a rapid clip from the eastern fields, followed by three others.

He jumps up her mountainside in broad leaps, and lands before her.

"Who are you, and what is your business here?" he calls. His clothes are simple but well-made, and he has a single sword visible, secured at his waist. "I am Sasuke, a commander."

Permalink Eye

The language is foreign to her, but a quick and subtle spell serves to remedy that.

"Mortal." Her voice is clearly feminine and seems unsuited to the mouth from which it issues. "You are no shaman, but tell me. Who has killed this land?"

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"The land is the same as it has been for centuries at least. If you want theological debates, you'd need to find a temple. Who are you, why are you here, and are you a threat to the people of this land?"

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"I am Ellisaria. You are rather insolent for a human. I have no quarrel with any who do not bring their quarrel to me, save they who are responsible for driving the elementals from this place."

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"I answer only to the Daimyo of these lands. By elementals, do you mean spirits?"

'Sudden powerful neighbor who wants to hang out in the mountain's graveyard, sleep (?), and fight people who disrespect spirits' wouldn't be the worst or even weirdest complication of his leadership, but it's not one he's exactly thrilled by. (He's going to need to warn idiots off of picking fights, isn't he, assuming she's telling the truth about being non-hostile - which he'll have to check for with Karin later. At least she's not near anyone else's borders.)

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"Have your elders taught you nothing? Elementals are not spirits, mortal. They are the land itself, given form and will by the native magic."

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"I'm not a monk, but 'spirit' is usually used to include the supposed creators of the world, animated objects, the life-force of very old trees, the wolf-god that protects one particular mountain, and land and nature spirits."

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"Imprecise terminology," she sniffs.

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"Where are you from?"

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"Azeroth, originally. More recently Outland, which was once Draenor. What world is this?"

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"I haven't heard of those places. This world is usually called Sekai, Seken, or Edo, depending on the tradition. 'Edo' is more common around here, to contrast with the Pure Land, Joudo. We don't have confirmed travel to other worlds. Did you mean to come here?"

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"So many questions. Let me then take a form more appropriate to extended conversation." Her body collapses and folds in on itself-

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-and in its place stands a tall, dark-haired woman.

"Now then. You asked if I meant to come here. I did not. There is nothing here to draw me, nor any obvious means by which the transit was achieved."

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"Ensuring the safety of these lands is my job. You're an unknown, in terms of power, motives, personality, and allegiance."

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"Well, naturally. Though of course, the same can be said about you from my perspective. I have no reason to believe you hold such authority beyond the fact of your saying it, nor any knowledge of your power or personality."

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"Point. A fellow shinobi might be able to get a read on my personal power, but I'm not sure that applies across dimensions. I can have the team I brought with me confirm my rank, but their word's no more inherently reliable than mine. I am considered powerful locally, and among the elite on the scale of 'the continent,' but that again runs into a problem with relative scales. Forgive me for not being in the mood to detail my exact capabilities."

"My general philosophy for leadership is essentially to live and let live. Threats and in-fighting are not permitted, but all those who leave their grudges behind are welcome. Neither I nor the daimyo have an objection to you deciding that an uninhabited stretch of mountain belongs to you, nor to you defending yourself from immediate, direct threats. We would have an objection if you started attacking farms, or trying to impose your will on others who do not wish to be ruled. If you wish to learn more about this world, its powers, its spirits, and the like, I can direct you to people who specialize more in those matters, or ask if any feel like coming out to meet you, but whether they answer your questions will be their own decision. If you want a commitment of resources from me, I would ask for a proportionate commitment in return from you - probably no more than a limited defensive pact, both in terms of what I'm willing to commit to and what I'll ask. More likely would be an exchange of information."

"I can answer basic geopolitical questions, especially if you don't plan on staying in the area, but I would warn you that most places have a harsher outlook on new neighbors."

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"I don't especially care about the politics of mortals. You are too brief to be worth the effort in general. My time on this world seems likely to be lengthy and if the rest of it is, as you say, as barren as this, I would as soon not relocate unnecessarily. Though you ought to know that I intend to hunt my food. I am interested in learning more about what you practice of magic but I do not wish to range far afield at the present time."

Permalink Eye

"The area to your immediate west and north is unclaimed. At a vaguely undefined point to the west is the start of Waterfall's territory. The northern peninsula is entirely unclaimed, though rumored to be haunted, and there is the occasional mountain village that's decided to scrape out existence anyways. As long as you don't steal livestock or otherwise bother this nation's citizens, I don't care what you hunt."

"A trade in magical knowledge would benefit us both, I suspect. Our powers can do space-time manipulation, and I have heard of one case of interdimensional transit involving a private, uninhabited dimension, so those might have an avenue for you to return to your home."

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"My own magic has an avenue, but teleportation is not a field I have studied extensively. Most of the projected duration of my stay I expect to involve reconstructing theory and mapping local ley lines." Which would be much easier were she a blue. Not for the first time, she spares a moment to curse the fate that decreed her to be born a black instead.

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"If we have ley lines we use a different word, so I'm not sure on what the comparative time spent would be on that versus learning seal techniques, but it's your time."

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"I am unfamiliar with seal techniques."

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"They're a very, very broad category, mostly meaning 'techniques effected through writing,' versus techniques effected through the body or mind. Most commonly used are storage seals, which can store chakra, items, kinetic energy, presumably minds, or theoretically anything you can sufficiently define. Barrier seals trap things in place, form barriers that are difficult to pierce, or the like. Space-time seals also exist, but those aren't my field; I'm mostly familiar with the effects of one that enables rapid movement, and with the use of summoning techniques."

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"Interesting. Is it possible for anyone to learn these?"

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"In this world, excepting some rare disabilities, and I'd be surprised if even someone who couldn't use chakra couldn't work on seal development and just find someone to activate it. They're based on a combination of symbols - the shape of which are usually just 'written words' but if you're being efficient should be a special character set - and mathematical determination of placement and of what the seal should tell the chakra to do. I don't know if someone not from this world would be able to mold chakra."

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"I assume chakra is local equivalent of mana, that from which magic is made."

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"Possibly. Techniques require molding chakra into specific forms, and chakra so used is inaccessible until it regenerates. It's in everything, but most people can't sense nature chakra."

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"Yes, that sounds similar. You mentioned the term 'shinobi'."

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"One of the categories of people who use chakra."

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"What are the others?"

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"Samurai and monks are the two main others. The major differences between them are political and historical, but there are some different traditions used."

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"What classes of abilities does each group use?"

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"Samurai mostly base their abilities around their swords. The monks use staves when they use weapons at all, but are more likely to use elemental manipulation. They tend to stay out of fights, though. Shinobi are more broad - there's illusions, physical fighting with weapons or the body, elemental manipulation, or non-elemental other techniques, that most can use. Technically there's nothing stopping each group from learning the others' techniques except tradition."

Permalink Eye

"I see. You are a shinobi, yes? How likely am I to encounter other shinobi, or monks or samurai?"

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"I am a shinobi. Shinobi are the most common, and are the backbone of most militaries, but as a part of the population are rare. There are few samurai in this country, and in most of the others they stay in the wealthier cities and districts. The monks tend to stay isolated in their temples; you're unlikely to encounter many if you don't bother them, but some do wander on nature pilgrimages or something. Anyone sent to investigate you would likely be a shinobi. You might have the rare person observing you, but I have the greatest claim to this territory, my enemies are unlikely to come this far in, and my subordinates will be warned not to annoy you."

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"Good." She briefly flashes her teeth in a simulacrum of a smile. "Such distractions are briefly amusing, but quickly grow tiresome."

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"Mhm. Are you planning to stay on this mountain range?"

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"Yes, I think so."

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"For an information exchange, I assume you'd prefer I send someone out to you?"

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"At least until I've finished setting up."

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"What will setting up involve?"

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"Pulling a proper lair out of these mountains, mostly. Wards, defenses, possibly a small increase in vulcanism."

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"Alright. I'll warn the nearby villages that there might be some rumbling. I assume the increased volcanic activity won't threaten areas past your range?"

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"That is unlikely, yes."

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"If there's an accident, I'd ask that you help in diverting any danger from the inhabited areas."

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"We'll see."

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"Pleasantries aside, do you have any needs in the short term?"

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"None I cannot fill myself."

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"Alright. I'll leave you to it, then."

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"You do that." She shifts back into her native form and takes off with a mighty sweep of her wings, to circle overhead until her visitors leave. The spot she's chosen... will in fact do well enough, with a bit of work. She can't see anything obviously better from here, and no signs she's likely to. All it needs is a bit of work.

She settles back down to coax the earth into the form she requires. The lack of elementals makes this both easier and harder than times she's done this in the past. The land has no preconceived notion of how it ought to be that she must wrestle with, but she has no aid in her efforts, only her own strength. Which is not inconsiderable. It's an interesting challenge. What might have taken her a week on Azeroth or two on Draenor, she soon realizes will be an exercise of at least a month, perhaps two. She goes for a hunt while pondering the design and takes a deer. Then two more. She'll need sentry eggs, certainly.

There was a lovely little cave she had in the mountains southeast of that high elf city, the ones who talked about the sun all of the time. She quite liked it, before Neltharion called the flight to Draenor. She models her new lair on that, but adds the jagged razor spikes from her last home in the Blade's Edge. This seems a martial sort of world, and it felt appropriate. Her eggs are ready by the time the cave is finished, as she had thought they would be, and she clutches in the main room, deep inside. They are different yet again, spikes not crabbed and greying like Azeroth nor twisty and very slightly springy as Draenor. The spikes are more nubs than anything. Still, the eggs themselves feel correct and so she sets them up in their position as guards, down the hallway and in the entrance and shallowly buried outside.

With that done, she feels secure in setting out to see somewhat more of the world for herself...

Permalink Eye

...in her human form. It's one thing to hear, but it is always another to see, and she doesn't want the observation muddied unnecessarily.

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She's left alone while she makes the lair; the local leadership has apparently decided to put off any cultural exchange until she seems less busy.

There's a scattering of small villages nearby, mostly farmers, who'll likely immediately notice any strange women wandering through. Past the villages, though, there's a town with aspirations of city-hood straddling a river, apparently the local trading hub.

Permalink Eye

That seems an appropriate place to begin. What sorts of things are traded? And do the mortals here treat gold and silver as valuable similarly to her prior experiences? She has a small pouch of such, acquired in the process of excavation, to exchange for local currency if that seems indicated.

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Most of the coins being used are bronze, copper, or iron. All of the coins have holes in the middle, and are of varying sizes and shapes - mostly circular, oval, or a sort of rounded square - with many having images of flowers and written inscriptions. There are also long, flat silver coins minted with their weight, and a few similarly minted gold coins used only for the most expensive purchases. The bulk of the coins seem newer and generally unified in design, but there are plenty of older coins, and coins of a different design philosophy, possibly minted elsewhere.

Most of the localized trading is for rice, bolts of cloth (mostly cotton), various tools, pottery, alcohol, perfumes, spices and sugar, a few rarer grains, dried meats, more expensive meats preserved with some kind of magic, books, and a few other assorted goods, mostly as useful for household use, but a handful are luxuries. There's gossip about the newness of it all, the ports opening to the north and the trading stations tentatively established at the border - this is a people long used to limited trade, and to diets barely more varied than plain rice. The vast majority of the goods come from within the country, and there's an undercurrent of excitement about any foreign goods.

The people themselves frequently show signs of past and extended malnourishment, their clothes worn but well cared for, any new pieces eagerly showed off.

Permalink Eye

A backwater she's landed in, then. Long isolated but now breaking its barriers, if in a less literal sense than would have been appropriate on a world managed by her flight. A product of the boy's initiative, perhaps. Young mortals are energetic and eager for change in such regards, yes? Hmm. This may be good for her, if the populace is too distracted otherwise to object to her presence. Though it is unlikely she goes unnoticed entirely, even wearing the guise of a human. She is one of the tallest people in town, immaculately groomed, her clothes of fine cloth and foreign cut.

What sorts of things do they write their books on?

Permalink Eye

A few people notice her - the general assumption seems to be 'shinobi' going by a few murmurs, though not a local one, and there's some wariness.

The books are written on paper, of varying quality. They're mostly bound in cloth or a stiffer, thicker paper. Literacy seems decently widespread. A glimpse inside a book reveals characters too neatly printed to have been produced by a human hand.

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Interesting.

Her next stop is to sample the local cuisine.

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Mixture of 'fairly bland' and 'people experimenting with new and exciting spices.'

(She will need money for anything beyond a very small sample from a small handful of more well-to-do places. More than a few of the food sellers will try to pull her into gossip - the most common topic is where she's from, though most can be nudged into chattering about their new neighbor in the mountains or assorted rumors and speculation about politics.)

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Surely she can find someone willing to trade coinage for metal, even at a rate that may not be strictly even.

What are people's thoughts on the neighbor in the mountains?

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There's a currency exchange - while alternative tender is accepted, people are being encouraged to switch to the newer system. The currency exchange also seems to be a wholesale buyer of bulk goods like rice. The man running the currency exchange whistles at her gold, says she'd probably get a better deal and more of it closer to the mining towns, but he'll trade metal for coins weight for weight - for a small fee, of course.

People mostly seem a lot less nervous than might be expected. There's a general feeling of 'well of course something moved into the mountain's graveyard, didn't I tell you it's haunted', some grumbling about seismic activity, one group of kids arguing about whether the dragon could beat the jounin commander - mostly involving wild speculation on both's powers, about the only thing agreed upon about said jounin commander is he uses a sword and beat Orochimaru (the name is said in a delightedly horrified whisper) and even less about the dragon. (The kids get sidetracked soon enough to another match-up.) There's some wild speculation about where she's from, but almost everyone agrees that basically every theory is ridiculous - a new tailed beast, formed from some emotion in the land; a kami of the earth or the mountain revealing herself; a shinobi with an odd bloodline; an alien from the moon...

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Why is the area considered the mountain's graveyard?

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Everyone's called it that for as long as anyone can remember, is the general consensus. A few people have theories - one man thinks it's just on account of all the giant bones, and that the people who named it were being literal. It's mountains, and it's a graveyard of giant animals. An old woman insists Yama no Kuni - the Mountain Country - used to be there, long, long ago, and that the inhabitants were all wiped out before the Empire fell, killed as rebels - so it's literally the graveyard of Mountain. Another old woman thinks it's the resting place of a mountain kami, and a third thinks it's cursed so everyone who enters dies before their time (she's unpersuaded by her friend pointing out they get trade occasionally from one of the mining towns within the area, nor by the monastery apparently located there).

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What a quaint set of superstitions. None of that sounds like anything she ought to be worrying about.

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The superstition would likely be amused to hear Ellisaria's thoughts.

"You from down south?" one of the more agreeable old women asks her after some good natured bickering. "Not often we get wanderers out this way, though I suppose merchants and pilgrims know no season."

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"More or less. I am newly arrived in this area."

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"Things are going nice enough lately, I suppose. Still, avoid the Yuu Road - it's a bit to the southeast, heads towards Rakushou City, been bandits there for years. Cautious, don't do much violence, so not really on anyone fancy's radar, but a pain for travelers. Though I suppose Oto might clear it out soon enough, they've been good at that recently..."

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"I'll be sure to bear that in mind." This is not the face of a person who thinks that bandits are even remotely any sort of source of danger or concern.

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Probably a shinobi, probably a spy, definitely not her problem, the old woman silently figures.

She does make an agreeable sound, though. "Well, good luck with your journeys."

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"Thank you."

She's probably sufficiently exhausted what this town has to offer. First, back to her lair, to check that it is not disturbed and that if it has been, the protections functioned properly. Then, perhaps this Rakushou City.

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It hasn't been disturbed as far as she can tell.

The road does indeed have someone Highly Suspicious loitering on it, looking tough, but he takes one look at Ellisaria, bows, says, "Shinobi-san," and steps aside.

Rakushou is better off than the town. There's more of a difference between the richest and poorest, and the richest have nice, heavily embroidered silk clothes, but there's still clear signs of renewal and new construction - mostly apartments, from the look of the people around them probably low-cost or subsidized housing. The gossip's different, less new neighbor, more dramas, more latest-work-of-fiction, more politics, more international - Ame is suspected to be about to go to war with Suna and maybe Konoha, Kumo is angry at Konoha for something, people are moderately worried the new jounin commander's ambitions might extend to war, though some people think showing off Oto's strength would be beneficial...

Permalink Eye

Tch. Mortal bickering and scheming. They should stop dancing around their issues and settle matters in a straightforward contest or war. Much simpler, much neater.

Permalink Eye

There's a wider variety of trade available, too, and even a few shinobi about.

One, a redheaded woman, seems to recognize her, but doesn't make any motion beyond a brief nod in her direction.

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Does she know her...? Nothing comes to mind. Perhaps one of the young man's companions. She didn't pay them all that much attention.

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The woman smirks, pushes her glasses up, and then a man behind her whispers to a friend, "Isn't that the commander's whore?"

His companion snickers. "Heard he had a different one, not that anyone's seen her... Some enemy of his."

"Hah! A hypocrite, too, huh? Or is he pushing the forgiveness talk that far?" the first asks, grinning.

The red head turns cleanly on her heel and smiles at the two men, teeth bared and air heavy with threat. "Be very, very glad Sasuke-sama doesn't allow us the same privileges Orochimaru-sama did," she says, sweetly. Then, to the instigator, "Though, you quite live alone, don't you? No one would really notice anything that might happen."

Both go pale, stammering an apology, and scurry off.

No one else seems to note the interaction as strange, though a few stop to watch, amusement in their eyes.

Permalink Eye

Ah, Sasuke. That was the name. Orochimaru is... the one he inherited his position from, and the pattern he's changing?. More information. And the exchange was moderately amusing.

But she's satisfied herself that there are no imminent threats she need concern herself with, and so returns home. She spends the next three days flying around the mountains, dotting them with small magical flames. If she was a blue, she could just look. But she's not. So in a week she will check the flames again to see which have flared and which have sputtered, and try to sketch a rough map of the ley lines.

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Once, she returns from her flight to find the lair disturbed. The traps seems to have gone off, but whoever tripped them escaped.

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That, she does not like. She breaks the whelping's spine with a smack of her tail and resets the wards, then buries the corpse.

She stays much closer to home for the next while.

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That seems to have dissuaded others for now.

The fires she's set don't flare or flicker in response to either ley lines or magic.

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Hm. That is... unusual. And potentially problematic. On any normal world, the distribution she has ought to have caught at least one. That none of the fires have changed at all indicates... what? A thaumic dead zone? But then the fires shouldn't have taken at all. She doesn't have enough theoretical background for this. Maybe a mana-neutral region? Are those even possible?

...The lack of elementals. Elementals are formed from loose environmental mana. If there's no mana, there won't be any elementals. If there's no mana, local magic would look different, which it does. Damn the gods great and small. She does not like this conclusion. It means she won't be getting back under her own power any time soon. Her bellowing roar of frustration shakes the ground.

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The villagers nearby don't particularly like that, but they got used to the minor trembles during the construction. A roaring dragon sounds an awful lot like Someone Else's Problem.

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Okay. Fine. Her first idea isn't going to work and she's young to be here for longer. What does she need?

A bigger lair. Local magic. Better defenses.

Of those, magic first. The mortals learn it within a lifetime, so it will be the quickest to pick up. The other goals require her to stay out of human form for extended periods, which will likely be disadvantageous for learning.

The lair will be straightforward. As for defenses... She'll lay more wards for now. She is not overeager to clutch again so soon. Maybe look to starting a dragoncult. That might dovetail with acquiring magic, if she offers local users the chance at ascension.

And the long-term stability of the mortals' politics is more important. She doesn't want to be caught unawares by an army.

So. Back into their civilization she must go.

Permalink Eye

The generally agreed upon best place to find shinobi is Otogakure. Otogakure is hidden. It might not actually be a single place, more a political entity spread over multiple places. After that, there's a contact point in the capital, Kometo, which is usually responded to really quickly. There's smaller contact points in the other cities and some of the big towns in more active areas, but they sometimes have a backlog.

(There's gossip about Kometo - people don't talk about the daimyo, much, the shinobi are more interesting, but soon after the new jounin commander solidified his position the old daimyo and all his sons died, leaving only his daughter. That woman, Ueda Kyoku, is the new daimyo, and people are unsure of her. Some think she's weak-willed, letting the shinobi walk all over her. Some think she's cunning. No one actually knows much of anything about her - her most notable trait is being utterly unexceptionable. Given the scandals that follow the nobles like clouds of flies, one old woman says, that alone is something to pause at.)

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Kometo, then. She has no desire for a scavenger hunt, nor does she feel like waiting.

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Kometo is larger, more colorful, and in better shape than the others by a large margin. There's more new construction, more clearly defined districts, and more people from a variety of places and backgrounds. More shinobi, too, including a large group in a building that's part of the publicly facing parts of the government - the equivalent of city hall is flanked by a large courthouse and the Otogakure contact point. There's a series of lines for the Otogakure contact point, feeding people into rooms made magically impregnable to spying, where presumably they solicit help from the shinobi - for a fee, if wants are determined to be outside their usual purview (as explained by a helpful sign).

She's apparently recognized by one of the guards, who gestures to her to leave the line and follow him, nodding to a door that seems to go further into the building.

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Convenient. She follows.

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"The dragon Ellisaria, right?" he says, sounding vaguely bored, once the door closes behind her. He sits at a table, and gestures to a chair across from him. "Sit if you want, don't if you don't." After she indicates which, "What's your reason for contacting us today?"

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"I wish to speak with your jounin commander, regarding a change in our agreement."

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"That's easy to pass on. Any details? Especially on urgency and where you'd rather meet - if it's urgent he can get here faster than most places, if privacy's more important you can meet him at your lair or in one of the bases, if it isn't urgent at all he might want you to come to him, or else wait until he has an opening in his schedule." Then, after a pause, "Usually we'd also ask for proof of identity, but our sensors already identified you positively, and don't think your signature can be trivially faked."

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"I doubt that it could be. The matter is not urgent, but I would prefer it addressed sooner. Either my lair or his base would suffice as a meeting point."

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"I'll get it sent in. You'll probably receive a message soon enough with a time and place - probably either a human messenger or a hawk. Usual turn around's no more than a week."

Permalink Eye

"Very well. One further matter. I will be in this area for the next several days and may make some excursions in my true form. I would prefer not to be attacked while doing so."

Permalink Eye

"That's fine. There's a no-fly zone over and around the capital itself, for safety reasons. I'll point it out on a map. Stay out of there, you should be fine - I'll let the forces nearby know who you are."

(A map can be rather quickly obtained. The no-fly zone is large-ish, but reasonably sized overall.)

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She notes the boundaries. And then, her business concluded, will take her leave.

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And then she goes for a fly around the capital. If she's showing off a bit more than usual, no one who doesn't know her will be able to tell. You can't start a cult if no one knows who you are or has any reason to appreciate your power and majesty.

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A messenger hawk - big, about the size of a small pony, dark brown with flashes of red along the edges of his feathers and an orangish head - finds her before she's ready to leave. He tilts his head at her, and says, "I have a message for Ellisaria."

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"I am she."

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The hawk rustles his feathers, then, "Good. Sasuke-sama can meet you tomorrow morning, or on Gold Day next week, within his base, which I can lead you to."

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"Tomorrow, if it is within a day's flight."

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"It is, even with how late it is now. You want to go now, or should I come get you?"

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"Now is preferable."

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"Right-o." He flutters his wings, then takes off with a few powerful strokes, circling upwards. "I'll put a technique over you so everyone doesn't see where we're going, how about," he calls.

Permalink Eye

She launches herself after him. "You may."

Permalink Eye

Not much changes from her perspective - the air under her ripples a bit, and he's hard to see from most angles, but this technique isn't intended to hide fliers from each other.

The base is nearby, around ten miles from the capital. It seems small, for a military base - only a tiny portion projects above ground, but the underground part isn't particularly impressively sized, either.

The hawk lands in a tree, mantles his shoulders, and a rippling illusion falls away from the stone entrance.

Permalink Eye

She lands, and shifts to human form.

Does she need to knock?

Permalink Eye

The door opens smoothly for her, and the hawk jumps down from his perch, grumbling about human warrens as he ducks into the tunnel and waddles forwards.

Permalink Eye

She takes a brief moment to feel out the contortions and hollows in the earth that the base is built from before following.

Permalink Eye

Most likely formed by magic, but there's no lingering magic in the earth itself.

The area she's led to is only a few dozen feet below the surface, rather shallowly anchored into the bedrock. There's an atrium of sorts, decorated with enormous statues of snakes, with many doors leading off of it (and several more doors hidden, going by the presence of hallways behind blank stretches of wall, floor, or ceiling). The architecture apparently assumes its inhabitants aren't limited by having to walk on the floor, though nothing assumes they're comfortable hanging out for extended times upside down. Many of the higher doors have a pad large enough for a single person in front of them, and no visible way up.

There's a few people coming and going, in fact treating the ceilings and walls as perfectly legitimate paths, though anyone idling is on the floor. A man with a shock of light blue hair and the same cream-colored uniform as most of the other people present walks up to Ellisaria, says, "Heya. I'm Teiden, one of the chuunin. Sasuke-sama is tied up until tomorrow, but I can show you the public areas of the base, or just drop you off at one of the guest rooms."

Permalink Eye

Snakes are... an aesthetic to have. More common among trolls than humans in her experience, but.

"I would appreciate a tour, first."

Permalink Eye

The hawk nods to the man, then vanishes in a cloud of smoke. He doesn't seem to have gone anywhere in particular. Teiden nods back, then turns to Ellisaria. "Okay! This base's more open than a lot of the others, so it won't even be a 'here's the entrance area. Here's where to get food. Here's the bathroom. No nothing else is publicly accessible' type of tour. How much do you know about shinobi?"

Permalink Eye

"The most common type of chakra user. Commonly employed in assassination, reconnaissance, sabotage, bodyguarding, occasionally open warfare. Most of you live in 'Hidden Villages' separated from other humans.Your spells and abilities are sorted into a few distinct classes and tend to be elementally aligned."

Permalink Eye

"Pretty much. We also have ranking systems - standard's genin to chuunin to jounin, with some sub-ranks in there, kind of as catch-alls of expected responsibility. Genin are starting out, usually don't wear uniforms, not many around here but they sometimes run the more milk-run messages, almost never do things unsupervised by a chuunin or jounin. Chuunin are from 'trusted to operate on our own' to 'squad leaders.' Jounin are more powerful, kind of the higher ranked officers. My uniform's the chuunin one. The jounin don't have a set uniform for day-to-day, either, when there isn't a big operation going on. You might hear the leaders of the big five being referred to as Kage, that's kind of an air they put on, ours is just the Jounin Commander. You're not part of the ranking, and Sasuke-sama is pretty informal, so just standard levels of politeness are fine, no need to salute anyone or anything silly."

(He starts leading her to one of the doors, then remembers to ask if she can walk on walls. Or fly without getting inconveniently big.)

Permalink Eye

She cannot walk on walls nor fly out of her native form, but is entirely capable of jumping the height required to reach any of the doors she's seen thus far.

Permalink Eye

That's fine.

The parts of the base accessible to visitors, even allies being quasi-courted, aren't usually all that interesting. There's hints that significant chunks of this place were converted from cells and labs. There's symbols on the walls, sometimes, especially around the doors, in specific patterns that don't much look like local writing, and some people carry similar images on their bodies. A small handful of the symbols seem to thrum with something almost like potential.

Permalink Eye

These would be seals, perhaps? She pauses to look at the ones on the walls more closely.

Permalink Eye

They're mostly fluid in shape, swirling in on themselves, with minuscule details too fine to have been produced by a human hand.

Permalink Eye

Hmm. Very interesting.

Permalink Eye

"Looking at the fuinjutsu? Anything like that, where you're from?"

Permalink Eye

"Runecarving, perhaps. A vrykul art, not one I've studied. But it is usually less... intricate." She peers more closely. "The level of detail here..."

Permalink Eye

"It's managed with chakra - you make a pattern, then the chakra applies it, from what I know. I'm not an expert, though, I just know enough to not try and apply them myself."

Permalink Eye

"Dangerous to the uninitiated? Unpredictable?"

Permalink Eye

"Easy to mess up, and prone to exploding if you get anything wrong. Or worse, you sometimes hear weird stories of bizarre fuinjutsu accidents."

Permalink Eye

"Bizarre how?"

Permalink Eye

"Stuff getting changed, people getting weird powers and then going mad, the chakra forming into a malevolent spirit, gravity pointing the wrong direction until someone figured the seal out, weird dimensional effects - a messed up storage seal, when it doesn't blow your arm off, will sometimes grab odd stuff from elsewhere, probably this dimension but maybe not. Nothing big, and nothing controllable so far."

Permalink Eye

"Is this an active area of study?"

Permalink Eye

"Always is. Was one of Orochimaru-sama's big pushes. Sasuke-sama's restructured things, but it's still a major research and development focus."

Permalink Eye

"I see."

Permalink Eye

"Something you're interested in?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes."

Permalink Eye

"You might be able to work out a knowledge exchange, even if you're not willing to work for us. Not sure on policy with that, but Sasuke-sama's been pushing for increased cooperation internationally."

Permalink Eye

"That is one of the objectives of my visit."

Permalink Eye

"Be neat to see what comes of it," he says. "Anything else you feel like passing on? If Sasuke-sama knows your agenda, he can prepare information or offers better."

Permalink Eye

"I think the rest should stay between he and I, for now."

Permalink Eye

"Alright. Do you want to see more? Most of it's much the same, but a portion of the training areas are open to visitors, too."

Permalink Eye

"I would like to see the training areas."

Permalink Eye

"Right this way. They're a bit set off from everything else, closer to the surface. Makes things safer - even with limits on what techniques people can use, someone always does something they shouldn't..."

Most of the training areas take the form of large, clear arenas, likely meant for sparring, sometimes with raised observation areas. A few have changeable obstacle courses. Two have seal-assisted exercise equipment - the larger has a raised track around the edge, which a couple of shinobi are running on. Three have training dummies - a sign informs readers that the dummies are capable of regeneration within such and such limits, and the next idiot to atomize one gets to explain their decision to the requisitions department.

Permalink Eye

She smirks at the sign.

A small variety of equipment, most training is combat-focused. As expected, but it's good to have confirmation.

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome to use these while you're here, long as you follow the posted rules," he says.

Permalink Eye

"We shall see. At my age, one no longer requires continuous practice."

Permalink Eye

He makes a noncommittal noise. "Must be nice. Might be a species thing, too, humans lose muscle tone pretty easily. Anyways, you want to head to the guest rooms, or hang out elsewhere for a bit?"

Permalink Eye

"The guest rooms."

Permalink Eye

"Alright."

The guest rooms are fairly plain, with rice mats cushioning against the cold stone, and the main bedding option being a roll-away futon. There's a desk and chair that fold away, as well as some shelves set up similarly, and the room has a partition that can be drawn to block off the back half. It's fully possible to get the room entirely empty. There's an attached bathroom, but no kitchen.

Permalink Eye

It will serve, for the night.

Permalink Eye

The next morning, Sasuke's ready to meet her bright and early, well before dawn. He looks like he just showered, though his hair is dry, and his scent carefully matches the background stone. His face is even, and he remains sitting when the chuunin from yesterday shows Ellisaria in. The room seems more like a living room than an office, with two comfortable couches facing each other across a low table, and scrolls with calligraphy on each wall, mostly containing scraps of poetry or short but pithy phrases. There's fancy looking paper and nice brush pens on the table, but nothing else. Another door, firmly shut, sits opposite the one Ellisaria came in from - beyond is a small suite, not significantly larger than Ellisaria's own, judging by the feeling of hollows in the earth.

"Hello," he says once he's dismissed the chuunin. "Go ahead and sit. You wanted to see me?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I did," she says, arranging herself on the couch carefully and deliberately. "My investigations have revealed that this world is entirely devoid of magic, rather than it being dormant or hidden. As such, I must assume that my time here will be significantly longer than I was anticipating and correspondingly, I now have a much greater interest in the long term stability of the lands in which I find myself."

Permalink Eye

"Reasonable. I assume you wish to learn our techniques, towards the goal of returning to your home world. We do have conditions on the sharing of knowledge - usually, knowledge is given in trade. Future aid, service, or knowledge in return is the most common barter. As for stability... That is our interest, as well. What actions do you intend to take towards that goal?"

Permalink Eye

"On my homeworld of Azeroth, it was the duty of the black flight not only to care for the earth, but also to maintain peace among the mortal tribes by seeing to the physical barriers that kept them sundered. Eventually our Aspect decreed that the mortals had grown beyond the need for such, and we let that lapse. I have no desire to set myself as queen above you. You manage your people well, and I do trust that you do not wish conflict for its own sake. If you ask my aid in your endeavors, I shall give it."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. We will do the same in return. For information exchange, I can send one of my seal masters your direction for a time."

"At the moment things are relatively peaceful, though there's tension - we've recently suffered a major change in leadership and direction, and our neighbors are watching us for weakness. Additionally, a certain group, the Akatsuki, has been making trouble. They began gathering the tailed beasts some time ago, and have already attacked at least two major Hidden Villages in search of those. We don't know what their end goal is, but it's unlikely to be anything good - historically the tailed beasts have been wielded as weapons of war. We might ask you to help in a strike against them, if they become a blatant threat, or in defending other villages from them, or even in acquiring and defending a tailed beast ourselves - we suspect we could court at least one - to prevent them from acquiring all nine, though that decision hasn't been finalized one way or another."

"Other than the Akatsuki, our current endeavors are primarily diplomatic and economic; while you might have a unique advantage in those arenas, I'd like you to know more about the local landscape before I'd ask you to intervene."

Permalink Eye

"What exactly are these 'tailed beasts'? I overheard some speculation that I might be one. I do not think you will want to employ me in any purely diplomatic capacity, my patience for such foolishness is quite limited."

Permalink Eye

"They're usually held to be monsters, made of pure chakra and possibly manifested hatred. But I've spoken to two of them, and they have memories, and can hold grudges, and can be fond of things like 'boasting' or 'alcohol,' which indicates more sapience and free will than is usually ascribed to them. I figure at least one must have a sense of self-preservation."

"There's nine tailed beasts, with one through nine tails, increasing in power with the number of tails. They're enormous in their true forms, ranging from twice as tall as a horse to capable of clearing mountains with a single leap. They take animal-like forms - a tanuki, a cat, a turtle, a monkey, a dolphin-horse, a slug, a beetle, an ox, and a fox, in order from least to greatest. They've attacked settlements before, but my predecessor found some documents indicating humans might have been the ones who started those conflicts, even if indirectly."

Permalink Eye

"Which ones have you talked with?"

Permalink Eye

"Shukaku, the one tailed tanuki - though that was during a fight against him and his then host - and the nine tailed fox. I don't know the fox's name. Currently, most of the tailed beasts are trapped in hosts, and have been for the last few decades, which makes it easier for Hidden Villages to wield them."

Permalink Eye

"And for Akatsuki to collect, presumably."

Permalink Eye

"That does seem to be a side-effect, yes."

Permalink Eye

"What form does the possession take? Is it willing?"

Permalink Eye

"The tailed beasts haven't consented once that I've heard. Hosts are usually selected as infants, less commonly as young children - less chance that their chakra system will reject the intrusion. Hosts can siphon power from their prisoner, with how safely or efficiently varying with seal design."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think I approve of this system."

Permalink Eye

"It's stupid, unnecessary, and backfires a lot. Which is why I'd wanted to negotiate with one of the tailed beasts - likely the three-tailed turtle, who is currently unsealed."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps it would respond better to one closer to its own nature. And size."

Permalink Eye

"Might take that as threatening. Or interesting enough to not immediately attack; the turtle likely finds humans plenty threatening already. Worth trying, though, and your aid would remove several logistical difficulties. I would still want at least some shinobi to accompany you most of the way. A sensor at a minimum, and preferably someone with combat capabilities in case of an encounter with hostile forces."

Permalink Eye

"Were you thinking of doing this soon?"

Permalink Eye

"It'd be best to move quickly, yes, given Akatsuki's unknown time-table."

Permalink Eye

"I am amenable, but I need to know more about what exactly you want from the turtle or want to offer it. And I want to meet those you would send with me."

Permalink Eye

"The sensor you've run into. Karin, a red-head with glasses, in Rakushou. She's our best tracker, and knows the signatures of all identified Akatsuki members. The support will depend on who's available - likely myself or Suigetsu, a swordsman; other jounin are available, but I'd prefer to send more than one of the less skilled fighters. I would prefer to go myself, assuming no issues arise here, for assorted reasons including simplifying negotiations, that I have a flying summons of my own, and that I'm our most capable shinobi in direct and open combat."

"What I want from the turtle is for him to relocate to the waters to our direct north, and to accept observation by my forces, and a line of communication. Ideally, I would like a mutual defense pact, or even an outright alliance, but I'm willing to negotiate down to 'we will protect him from attempts to seal or trap him, and he will be non-aggressive towards us and authorized ships.' An alliance would probably consist of us treating him as an independent contractor, and offering him compensation in return for missions - probably defending nearby shipping lanes from sea monsters and pirates. I'm not clear on what compensation a turtle made of chakra could possibly want, so I can't outline ahead of time what exactly I can offer."

Permalink Eye

"I see. That sounds unobjectionable."

Permalink Eye

He sort of half grins. "You haven't met Suigetsu yet. He's annoying. But I'll aim for sending myself."

Permalink Eye

An expression, how novel.

"Are there any other imminently pressing issues?"

Permalink Eye

"Not presently. How soon would you be willing to move on the three tails? The soonest I could leave is this afternoon, though a longer delay would allow me to more thoroughly arrange matters to operate smoothly in my absence. Three days from now is preferable for me."

Permalink Eye

"My schedule is open at present. If you wish to delay more than a day, I will retire to my lair and return."

Permalink Eye

"We don't have word of Akatsuki presently moving, so yes, I would prefer a delay. Three days from now, morning, with a planned departure before noon."

Permalink Eye

"Understood. I will see you then."

She takes her leave with a minimum of fuss and heads home. She doesn't have time for much in the way of housekeeping beyond refreshing wards, but she does begin poking at the rock below, starting to make it pliable in preparation for future expansion.

She gets back to Sasuke's base soon after the sun rises on the third day.

Permalink Eye

He saddles one of his guards with running the village. She watches him do paperwork often enough, and is one of the few who came out of Orochimaru's regime without anyone holding strong grudges against her. She is not particularly impressed.

Finding someone else to make sure Itachi neither starves nor escapes is a bit more of a pain, since he's taking Karin with him. Possibly illicit or at least hypocritically held captives are a headache, who knew. Still, Karin has those she recommends, primarily healers with enough discretion and loose enough morals. Which is all of them except the trainees and a tiny handful of recent arrivals. He picks someone with the talent to simply keep his sister unconscious safely, and then turns his attention to making sure no one sets his village on fire while he's gone.

He will be sorely disappointed if they can't survive a few days without him, but life is full of disappointments.

Still, Sasuke's ready for Ellisaria outside the main entrance, Karin and Juugo with him.

He nods to Ellisaria when she arrives, and says, "This is Karin, and this is Juugo. Juugo is strong, but has a condition reducing his ability to consistently control his actions, which I can keep in check better than our other available options, so I made the call to bring him." And taking Juugo gets the captain of his guard slightly less annoyed with him over this.

Permalink Eye

Juugo bows shallowly, right on cue, and seems mostly quiet and withdrawn.

Permalink Eye

She dips her head in acknowledgement. "Well met."

Permalink Eye

"Well met," he says softly.

Permalink Eye

"So, we getting this show on the road?" asks Karin, smirking.

Permalink Eye

"Yes." To Ellisaria, then, "I will summon a hawk for us. Karin has located the Three Tails." He gestures, and an illusory map floats between them. A red dot shows a drifting form several miles off the eastern coast, lingering near a few outlying islands. "This is his current location, but he has been known to move quickly before, so we believe it would be more efficient for us to lead you."

Permalink Eye

"Very well. I am ready."

Permalink Eye

He flashes through hand signs, then taps the ground, and a large hawk - back easily broad enough for all three shinobi - appears in a cloud of smoke. The hawk flaps his wings a few times, then settles and twists to look at Sasuke. "The mission's here?"

Sasuke nods, and he and his team climb on the hawk's back. Karin says, "The turtle hasn't moved yet," and the hawk lets out a shrill cry before taking off, circling into the air before cutting southeast. 

Permalink Eye

Southeast it is. She keeps pace easily.

Permalink Eye

The hawk's significantly faster than a non-ninja hawk would be, but not faster than a dragon, and soon enough they've reached the eastern shore and angled more south-wards, Karin periodically flaring her chakra in specific patterns to direct the hawk.

They land on a cliff overlooking one beach, with a large enough clear space behind it for Ellisaria, and Sasuke jumps down.

Permalink Eye

They must be close, then. She circles once more before setting down.

Permalink Eye

"The Three Tails is nearby, according to Karin. He's moved; we believe he may be investigating the reefs around her. He's currently at this location, within sight of this island's shore, which should be an acceptable landing point..." And new location can be highlighted on the map. "Do you want to arrange a signal for us to approach? Karin can sense fluctuations in chakra, and possibly in magic, which would be a convenient method of communication."

Permalink Eye

"I will send up a flare. Red for hostilities, blue for a more successful outcome."

Permalink Eye

"That works."

Permalink Eye

She takes off again and heads for the reef.

Permalink Eye

The three tails pokes his head above the water as she approaches, water sluicing off his spiked shell, his eyes narrow. He appears to be grumbling something, but it isn't audible.

He seems to be around twenty four feet tall between his two shells, thirty feet wide, sixty feet long with his tails fanning out another sixty feet - approximately Ellisaria's own size, if a hair bigger.

Permalink Eye

She circles once around up high before dipping lower to hover above the waves.

"I am Ellisaria of the black flight. What is your name?"

Permalink Eye

He tilts his head, then rumbles, "'M Isobu." His voice seems quieter than it should be, given his size. "Haven't seen one like you before. You a youkai?"

Permalink Eye

"I am dragon, and a visitor from another world. What are you doing here, Isobu?"

Permalink Eye

"The coral is damaged, because humans are idiots. I'm repairing it. Replacing the coral is easy, but fish are harder, so I'm also scaring the fishermen, since this is an important nursery."

Permalink Eye

"A worthy endeavor. Do you do this sort of thing often?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. I have been having to catch up, since I was sealed so long, and the others aren't doing their jobs, so I'm doing theirs now, too. The ones I can reach, at least."

Permalink Eye

"What are the others supposed to do?"

Permalink Eye

"Shukaku does the air. I can do that, and I used to do it a lot because he's drunk bunches. Matatabi does the mountains. She also likes sitting in a mountain temple and acting wise. Though maybe not now, I don't know if she has a grudge against the humans. Son Goku is responsible for the land plants, Kokuo for the land animals, Saiken for the things beneath the earth, Choumei for the flying animals, Gyuuki the small kami, and Kurama the humans. Kurama hates humans and hasn't done his job in forever. Matatabi, Choumei, and me are the only responsible ones. I haven't been able to contact Matatabi at all in months, though, and Choumei seems worried a lot, but I can't talk to them very well to ask what's wrong."

Permalink Eye

"My kind had similar responsibilities on my homeworld. Red dragons cared for the people, green dragons for the wild, bronze dragons managed time, blue dragons oversaw magic, and black dragons, my flight, were wardens of the earth. We were given these charges by the Titans, the creators of the world, when it was young. When I got here, the first thing I noticed was that the earth was dead. There are no elementals here, no animating spirits. Nothing for me to communicate with. I am pleased to learn that this place is not entirely bereft of those who care for it."

Permalink Eye

"There's the kami. But not so many anymore. Your world does sound different, but it's good it has dragons. Our world had nobody, until our father made us."

Permalink Eye

"Who was your father?"

Permalink Eye

"Ootsutsuki Hagoromo. The humans call him the Sage of Six Paths."

Permalink Eye

"What do the humans think of you and your father?"

Permalink Eye

He snorts. "Father taught them to use their precious chakra, so they like him. They don't like us as much. The one who caught us sixty years ago just sold us to the other humans, like things. Yagura, my last container, was surprised I could talk. But he was nice after, and listened to me about damaging the ocean, until that masked man put a control illusion on him."

Permalink Eye

"Masked man?"

Permalink Eye

"He wore a mask, and only had one eye, and felt like an Uchiha who had some Senju in him. He was mean, and made Yagura ruin his village. I saw him once through Yagura's eyes. He had an orange mask, with a spiral, and a black cloak with red clouds that covered the rest of his body. He said he was Uchiha Madara. He was not; Madara was an Indra reincarnation, and that line is very obvious."

Permalink Eye

Hm.

"I met someone named Uchiha recently, a young man. He rules the shinobi in the land to the west. He said that a group of humans called the Akatsuki has begun hunting Tailed Beasts. He asked me to offer you his protection from them."

Permalink Eye

"The Uchiha over that way? He's an Indra, like Madara. Indra was always very protective of family, though he sometimes forgot other people existed. I suppose he might be wiser, now. That's what reincarnation is supposed to do."

"Why does he want to protect me, and what does he want?"

Permalink Eye

"He does not like the Akatsuki. He believes they threaten the peace he is working for, and wants to deny them their quarry, because you have historically been used as weapons. He wants you to move somewhere he can keep watch over you and if you are willing, a pact of mutual aid or an alliance. He does not, so far as I am aware, intend to seal you himself."

Permalink Eye

Isobu rocks back a bit. "Hm. Moving would be inconvenient. I have to go places a lot, to work on the ocean. I don't know what he could offer me, for an alliance. If he has some coast, he can do what Yagura did, and protect that part of the ocean from damage, but that isn't much. But it could also be really bad, if the Akatsuki got us - have they been hunting the others? I noticed some of my siblings going very quiet. If they're collecting us all... That's really, really bad maybe, especially since just sealing us doesn't stop us from talking."

Permalink Eye

"The Uchiha may have more information on what exactly the Akatsuki are doing than he shared with me. I can call he and his friends over if you'd like to talk."

Permalink Eye

"Alright, I suppose."

Permalink Eye

She tilts her head back and tosses a stream of blue light into the sky.

Permalink Eye

Sasuke arrives soon enough.

"Hello," he says to Isobu. "I am Uchiha Sasuke, jounin commander of Oto, in the Land of Rice Fields. It is on the northern part of the continent, to the west of the peninsula at the north-east corner. Ellisaria indicated you were open to negotiations?"

Permalink Eye

Isobu nods, but seems hesitant to say anything, eyeing Sasuke a bit warily.

Permalink Eye

"This is Isobu," she says. "He is here to repair the damaged coral and keep the fishermen away so that the fish can regrow."

Permalink Eye

Sasuke nods. "That's good. We've been having to repair the soils in Rice Country, lately. People over-farmed. Is the ocean something important to you?"

Permalink Eye

Slow nod. "Ah. Yes. It's my job."

Permalink Eye

"Hm." He has an inkling of an idea - treating Isobu as the responsible ruler of the oceans might be off-track, but it's a circle he knows how to move in. "We have a very small coast, with very few fish nurseries, and not much trade passes through us, but we might be able to help you. I realize that staying near us would hamper your efforts, so I would propose a trade - our honored daimyo has been working to raise the profile of Rice Fields in the scientific arena. Already many people know that we have valuable, and often accurate, information. People are usually more ignorant than malicious. Publishing papers, and giving the information to everyone about how important the ocean is, and what they can do to protect it, might be able to impact policy some, and make your job easier once the Akatsuki are dealt with."

"In the short term, I can speak to the local fishermen. They are likely more scared of you, but people usually treat the tailed beasts as transient fears. I can explain to them why not fishing here is better, and they will trust that I will remember them if they transgress."

"I would not ask you to obey me. You are clearly sovereign here, and disrespecting that would reflect ill upon me. Even if you cannot or will not defend us fully, helping protect you in turn protects us."

Permalink Eye

Isobu squints, then nods slowly. "Your words make sense." Then, to Ellisaria, "Does he seem good on his word, for this?"

Permalink Eye

"He has treated fairly with me thus far. I do not believe he is lying to you."

Permalink Eye

He nods, decisively. "I will accept your deal, for now," he says to Sasuke. "But if you are lying, I will leave again."

Permalink Eye

"I have no wish to constrain you." He bows, slightly, as is appropriate from one leader to another. "Isobu-dono, it is my hope that we will have a most fruitful alliance."

Permalink Eye

That went well.

"Congratulations."

Permalink Eye

He nods, opens his mouth to say something - 

Permalink Eye

And the sky explodes! Quite artistically, if Deidara does say so himself.

He also, with a sense of satisfaction, had set himself on the edge of the sensor's likely threat-detection range. He knew ballistic missiles would come in handy.

Permalink Eye

Ellisaria is knocked into the water. She does not appreciate this.

She makes her displeasure known as she claws her way back into the air.

Permalink Eye

More bombs, many of them even larger now that Deidara's enjoying not having to hide.

Permalink Eye

Karin got separated from Sasuke and the others, and fell. Hitting the water hurt more than the explosion. She bites her arm, it's a quick and dirty way of healing herself but it's fast, starts swimming for the surface because her ears are ringing but now that they're openly hostile she can located the damn bastards, but she's deep and tired - 

Permalink Eye

A curl of water wraps around her, and whisks her to the surface.

Away from the explosions.

Isobu surfaces nearby, whispers, "Are you okay?" It's a comical sound, from something so big.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I healed - I know where they're attacking from, though one of them keeps slipping in and out, one's hanging back and throwing the bombs - I think the other's going for an ambush strike. I need to tell Sasuke-sama, or Ellisaria maybe. Someone who flies, the bomber's up in the air." She stops, samples his chakra again: "Almost certainly Deidara. Which means he'll have a counter to some of Sasuke's sharingan's more common tricks."

Permalink Eye

"I can get you there. Climb inside my shell, it's safer."

Permalink Eye

She nods, takes a deep breath, and does so, and clings on as Isobu rockets back towards the fight.

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Sasuke weathers the blast, takes off immediately on his hawk, wastes a precious few seconds getting Juugo down from his building rage - while Sasuke's stuck with him on a small flying surface is extremely not the ideal time and place - and starts circling, trying to spot the bomber and dodge the explosions.

The sharingan is not actually very good for distance vision, though, and he can't locate his target.

Someone, a man in an orange spiral mask and Akatsuki robes, appears next to him, tries to grab Sasuke - Sasuke stabs him, his sword goes through the man - 

Sasuke dismisses the hawk, propelling himself away from the man in the moment before free-fall.

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The explosions are bombs, mostly coming from that direction.

She breathes in and out, sweeping her head across the sky, expelling greats gouts of fire to detonate the explosives before they get closer.

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Some of them disgorge smaller bombs, fine enough to be breathed in, thickly laid enough to quickly start cutting swathes across her path.

Sasuke falls through a patch. Luckily, this problem is eminently solvable with lightning.

(The bombs adapt, become increasingly fire resistant. The bomber also is either using multiple launch points, or moving incredibly fast.)

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She sees Sasuke's effectiveness with lightning out of the corner of her eye. Were there elementals she could call a storm with ease, but failing that-

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-she shifts form, and lightning erupts from her hands.

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That seems highly effective, dusting many of the bombs and rendering the others inert.

Sasuke summons a new hawk under himself, swoops to get Juugo, and glances around.

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And Karin valiantly doesn't scream when Isobu throws her at Sasuke. Luckily he catches her, so: "I know where the bomber is - that teleporter's harder but I can warn if he's coming - "

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They'll wing off in the direction Karin indicates, though not before Sasuke shouts at Isobu, "A storm would be helpful now!"

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She shifts back before she hits the water again. The humans can watch themselves. She will guard Isobu.

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Isobu whips up the start of a hurricane. It's a bit more than what Sasuke asked for, but it's far, far more likely to hamper his opponent than Karin. (Deidara's bombs keep coming, punching through the cloud cover, since Deidara's not bothering to aim, instead going for maximum coverage and damage.)

He rockets towards Deidara, pushing his hawk to his maximum climbing speed, well over three hundred miles an hour, slams to the side when Deidara takes aim at them - gets above his opponent - 

And dives.

The hawk is significantly faster like this, trailing a sonic boom behind him. Deidara isn't quite able to keep up, his bombing disrupted as he frantically dodges - 

Closer to Isobu, and the storm, just within range for Sasuke to pull.

The lightning shapes itself into a kirin out of long practice, the horn leaping through Deidara, destroying the massive bomb Karin had warned he was forming. He sheathes himself in clay, survives, but with heavy burns, and his clay bird crumbles as he falls to the earth.

Sasuke lines up a kill shot, because he's not relying on that fall to finish the job, and the second Akatsuki member teleports next to Deidara, and then removes him from the field.

Karin and Juugo are smart enough to flatten themselves against the hawk's back a fraction of a second before the teleporter makes another move against Sasuke, and the skittering remains of the kirin - because he channels it through himself, and has learned to keep some back - lashes out.

He thinks for a second he caught the edge of the mask - sees a glimpse of a red eye - and the man vanishes.

Sasuke directs his hawk to wing back to his larger allies, teeth set on edge.

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"Was that the Akatsuki?"

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He lands. "Yes. The bomber, Deidara, and the teleporter, a member I'm having a frustrating time getting accurate information on, current alias 'Tobi' but indications exist he's used others in the past."

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"Isobu, could you tell if he was the same masked man as the one who enspelled Yagara?"

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Isobu nods and makes a confirming noise.

Sasuke looks up. "I hadn't heard about this. What happened with Yagura?"

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"A masked man, who felt like both Uchiha and Senju, laid a curse on him while he was host to Isobu, to destroy his village."

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"I've heard something about a Madara, elsewhere, could that be related?"

He strongly suspects that, regardless of alias, this is the other Uchiha who Itachi'd mentioned - the one who helped her kill the clan.

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"Ah. He wasn't. Wrong chakra," Isobu rumbles.

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Nod. "I don't know him, so I'll take your word for it. Unfortunately, our negotiations got interrupted..."

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"I'll still go with you, yes. You were very helpful."

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"Thank you."

And he'll check with Ellisaria that she's ready to go, before heading off - he'd rather be back at the base before debriefing (which he does explain).

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Fine with her.

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The flight back's done not quite in a sprint, but still at speed. Isobu seems to be treated the two hundred mile an hour flight as a lazy drift.

Sasuke lands them on a beach in Rice Fields not nearby any ports, having gone well out of his way to avoid Lightning's coasts, and bows shallowly to Isobu. "Thank you for coming. Now, I would like to discuss the fight more - what you noticed." Then, "Ellisaria, if you want, we can go over your part first, if you would like to return to your mountain? Or later, even, though I would like that debrief at some point, for tactical reasons."

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"The initial explosion caught me off-guard, though it did no substantial damage. I responded with fire to incinerate the explosives before they got close, and switched to lightning when you proved that more effective."

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Karin crosses her arms. "They were right around the edge of the range I scan more carefully - I can't really pay attention to everyone actually in my range. Didn't expect someone to attack from that far off. Or be able to locate us at all, my range beats most people's, but if that teleporter was spying..."

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"Then one might assume he knows where you asked Isobu to move to. I can ward against scrying, but I do not know how useful that may be."

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"We'll monitor the area closely, and I'll stay within sprinting distance - the country's only five hours at its longest at my top speed, so if I was away you'd have to hold out until then. But I should be nearby usually."

"It is a risk, though, and I might just move one of the bases up here."

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Isobu shakes his head. "I can leave the water. I don't like to, but if there's a river or a lake I'll be fine. And that way I can talk to your people better about the ocean."

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Sasuke nods. "That might be for the best, at least in the short term."

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"I will visit as well."

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Isobu nods. "I like talking to you," he says to Ellisaria. "So that would be good."

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She nods at him.

"Is that teleportation common?" she asks Sasuke.

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"I don't think so. I'm not positive how he's doing it, but if it's the technique it seems to be then it's unique to his specific bloodline within the Uchiha clan. Anyone else who could have it is dead."

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"Good. Was there anything else you needed from me at the present time?"

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"No," Sasuke says, while Isobu shakes his head. "I'll come out or send a hawk if I want to talk again. Thank you for your help."

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"It has been a pleasure, young human. Isobu."

She heads for home.

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Her home's undisturbed.

(Meanwhile, Isobu shrinks into a positively hide-able size, then follows Sasuke inland.)

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She continues her renovations. Taller mountains would be nice, more canvas to work with. She starts on that. Her lair gets a reservoir of lava for heat and light, fed by the magma burbling up to the tops of the peaks.

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Soon enough, a wolf the height of two horses at the shoulder, something thoroughly odd about her, shows up to lurk at a polite distance from Ellisaria's lair's front, crossing her paws and grinning.

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She pokes her head out.

"Did you want something?"

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"I noticed a new neighbor. Not human, nor chakra construct. Interesting, really. Thought I'd come around and introduce myself," the wolf says, voice amused. "I'm the kami of a mountain to your north, Unarida. I am usually called Okami, for my shape, or Unarida, for my mountain."

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"I am Ellisaria, the black. I had thought this land dead entirely. I hope my working have not disturbed you unduly."

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"Seeing the shrine workers grumble when their bells ring because of the shaking is funny. My mountain won't crack, because it is mine."

"The land is mostly dead, though it hasn't always been. In these days, if we leave, we cannot return, and many leave, for the human realm is not our home."

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"How sad that is. A land is nothing without its spirits."

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"Very. I've been trying to see if the barrier could be at least changed to allow exceptions, if not reset to its original state entirely. It gets lonely, being one of the few spirits around."

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"Barrier?"

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"The spirit realm and human realm used to cross over more, blurring into each other in places. A thousand years ago, there was something that could be summed as a 'war', although hardly any of us were involved, and this was termed an unsatisfactory arrangement by the humans' leader at the time. He was strong, and separated the two realms, and created something that's usually called a 'barrier.' Ravine or chasm also work."

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She shakes her head. "Mortal arrogance. In my world, the elemental spirits have each their plane, but it is not a prison to any, save for the most destructive of them."

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"We didn't have the prisons, unless humans trapped someone individually. It's possible he couldn't make a more finely-tuned barrier. Just means we need to do better."

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"What do you mean, 'do better'?"

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"I like this world, and some of its people. A full breaking might not be beneficial - there was a reason for splitting the worlds, even if it wasn't a good one. You said yours are prisons for the more violent spirits - I would like something like that. There are spirits that like the taste of humans, and eat them indiscriminately, never mind that we don't need sustenance. There are cruel spirits, who drive people mad. There are spirits that steal souls. They can stay where they are, at least until the humans are more used to those of us with manners."

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"You seem to have given this quite some thought. Have you a plan for achieving your ends?"

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"I don't think it's doable by a kami, at least not easily. It's possible it's achievable from this end. The most likely scenario for a modification would be a human on the other side; the barrier should weaken in the face of someone going against their own stream like that. I have a monastery, on my mountain, and the leader of it knows my wishes and plans, but she is unwilling to risk stepping into the spirit world right now. A human descendant of the original man who put it in place might be able to do something. A seal master might be able to figure something out, though the humans keep dying before they can get any good. My plan is mostly to wait, and watch, and see about allies, without compromising my mountain or my human followers."

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"I have intentions myself of learning the sealing art. I am told this does take some time. I have also recently become acquainted with the Three Tails, and he has taken up residence not far from here. Have you spoken with him?"

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"Not in a long time, if at all, I don't think. My mountain isn't sea-side, and I haven't had business with those nine in a while. I don't like going far from my mountain, but if he is near I can seek him out, too."

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"He may be willing to help. Though at the moment he is being hunted by a group of humans who wish to reseal him, so his actions are constrained."

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"Hm. He's one of that man's; I'm not sure how much he would help. But there's no harm in the asking."

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"'That man'? The Ootsutsuki was the one who created the barrier?"

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"Yes. He was the de facto ruler of the humans at the time, and one of the most powerful of even partial human descent I've seen or heard of; he and his brother were the most powerful of that era by a large margin."

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"I suppose that should not be surprising. So few mortals are exceptional, their greatest deeds tend to concentrate into a very few."

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"He was also not fully human - I'm not sure if his mother was mortal or not, but she wasn't native by any measure."

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"Offworlders are rarely good news. I, of course, am the exception that proves the rule."

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She seems highly amused. "What an odd phrase," she says. "Still, you have been rather helpful, yes."

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"This is not the first time I have been stranded on a world not of my birth."

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"That sounds like an interesting story."

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"Some fifty years ago, my homeworld, Azeroth, was invaded by a race of aliens called orcs, who hailed from a planet called Draenor. They were beaten back through their portal by the humans, in what they call the First War. Ten years later, the orcs reopened the portal and again invaded. However, this was in fact a smokescreen to cover their acquisition of certain powerful artifacts, which their leader intended to use to shepherd them to a new, unclaimed world. Neltharion, the Aspect of the black dragonflight, made a deal in secret with the orcs. He promised the flight's aid to the orcs in obtaining the artifacts and in exchange, the orcs would allow a large portion of us through their portal uncontested. I was one of those chosen to make our foothold on Draenor. The leader of the orcs proved incapable of mastering the power he sought, and rather than move his people, the uncontrolled magic began ripping the world asunder. Some of our group, including Neltharion, made it back through the portal before it was closed. I did not. Those were... an interesting few years. Draenor eventually stabilized, but much of it was lost to the Void. Perhaps a third of it remains, and less is habitable."

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"Somehow the mortals have a talent at picking fools for their leaders. Though I suppose kami aren't always much better - two of our supposed greatest once plunged the world into darkness for months over an argument about who was the main creator of something."

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"There were, I suspect, external forces at work. The Burning Legion, an army of demons bent on universal destruction, has long sought the demise of Azeroth. The orcs' original invasion was orchestrated by the Legion's influence. The second was either because the Legion wanted the power of the artifacts for themselves or as punishment for the orcs' failure."

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"That seems strange to me, but I suppose I haven't been to other worlds. Our would-be world destroyers often don't get along with each other, or aren't intelligent enough to orchestrate anything."

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"How fortunate for you and the world."

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"Indeed. I'm not certain why it's different."

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"The Burning Legion is lead by a rogue Titan, one of the creators of Azeroth and many other worlds. In the absence of such a force to unify the lesser beings, it is not surprising that their efforts would work at cross-purposes."

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"This world tried unity once. I think we're still technically in the war that started when it failed, or at least the aftershocks."

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"War is something of an inevitability of life. If there is no external enemy, then that energy will be directed to internal struggles."

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"Perhaps. I suspect it might also be that humans don't much like each other. They were less quarrelsome when they were farther apart."

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"Separation of population groups can help, but does not suffice as a long-term solution."

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She nods, resting her head on her paws. "I'm not much concerned with ruling them, though. But if you want to manage the humans, I won't stop you."

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"Only insofar as management is required to stop them from disturbing me unduly."

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"They'll get used to you eventually, I suspect." She stands, stretches. "If you have no other questions of me, I should perhaps go speak to Isobu, or else return to my mountain."

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"A pleasure to have met you, then."

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She sketches a bow. "Much the same." And she's off, darting into the woods so fast she blurs.

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Everyone in this world moves so quickly. Annoying. Ah well, not everyone lives in dragonhide.

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She's left alone for the most part for the next few days, until there's another minor disturbance at the edge of her territory.

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...Mmph. This one she's going to leave alone unless the whelplings start a ruckus.

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The disturbance creeps closer, until the whelplings do start alarming. There's a thunderous crash, signaling the start of the battle.

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The whelplings are more dangerous for their numbers than size, but they are persistent and extremely difficult to shake off. The intruders should be distracted enough for her to get a look before making a move.

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There's a group of four, dressed all in black with their faces covered, fighting rather skillfully. They seem to mostly favor martial arts and weapons, with only limited use of fancier techniques - one is able to line her sword with lightning, though, and occasionally send it in arcs, producing the thundering noise. They're trying to retreat, apparently either giving up on their task or deciding to approach differently.

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You don't get to attack a dragon's lair while she's home and come out of it with only scratches.

She takes a deep breath and exhales, a stream of fire bathing the entire melee. Her whelplings, of course, will be unaffected by the fire and continue their harassment.

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One flinches, blue flaring around him and a light scalding flaring on his exposed skin - no worse than a mild sunburn. The others weather the flames. One, a different woman than the lightning user, raises her hand sharply, gestures, and the attackers fold into a new, more defensive formation.

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"Trespassers!" She lauches herself forward to overfly them, breathing flame below her, this time tinged with a flickering blackness at the core.

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They scatter, the hotter flames burning the less experienced members, and start putting significantly more effort into retreating. The lightning woman sends an arc of electricity snapping at Ellisaria.

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She tucks her wing in and does a half roll to avoid it before landing in the shinobi's line of retreat and scoring a gash across the ground with her claws. Molten earth begins seeping through immediately, and she pulls, sending geysers spattering across the battlefield.

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The worse burned of the four is clipped again. The lightning woman jumps high, sticking to the ceiling, and the others similarly get off the ground.

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Unfortunately for them, Ellisaria is absolutely willing to collapse part of her lair to punish intruders. Large chunks of the roof start to flake and crash down.

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One gets clipped, badly, and seems to suffer a broken bone, not that he lets that slow him down. The leader woman claps her hands and starts pushing the earth above her out of the way. The less injured man just merges with the earth directly, his essence seeming to spread out oddly into the cracks and crannies. 

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She fills the space with another stream of shadowflame.

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Since the merged earth man doesn't seem to be being creatively squished, the other three use the same technique, with lightning woman hesitating the longest.

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Interlopers meddling where they do not belong. But now enough magma has gathered that she can call forth a tide of it to wash through and begin melting the fallen rock.

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Two of the shinobi are so far fast enough to retreat ahead of the heat; lightning woman gets seared; one starts deforming rather messily as the melting catches up to him.

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Mm, she doesn't want them going further in, either. She flies back across the chamber to make another barrier.

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They seem to be more 'fleeing' than attempting to infiltrate - they're going for the nearest surface point - but it is unclear if they'll attempt to return.

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Ideally she wants only one of them to get away, so as to spread the message of her displeasure most effectively. But she'll settle for 'more than one horribly maimed and on the brink of death' if she has to, and won't chase them after they've left her lair.

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The deformed one dies before he can get away, the lightning wielder falls dramatically behind and seems to be more than on the brink of death, and the other two are moderately to severely injured - the worse one is unlikely to be able to fight again. They consider the message very sent.

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Acceptable.

Once they're gone, she spends a day fixing her lair up, then drops by to see Isobu, and then she should probably make sure Sasuke is aware of the trespassers, as they almost certainly went through his territory to get to her.

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Isobu's glad to see her - he's moved into a lake close to one of the more militarized bases, and not too far from one of the fledgling academies, and has been talking to some human writers and scientists about the ocean. The Akatsuki haven't tried anything else, yet, and he's pretty sure Sasuke's at the nearby base, if she wants to talk to him - he at least comes out this way a lot.

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She'll check there for him, then. At the very least there will be someone who can send a message.

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He steps out as she approaches, and hops his way over to a wider, flatter area where she can land more easily.

(He fortunately wasn't busy, and thanks to Karin had enough warning to get a clone set up with his paperwork. He's moderately appalled how much documentation Orochimaru was letting slide. There's a lot to catch up with.)

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"I thought you might like to know," she says conversationally, "that I was attacked by a group of shinobi the other day."

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"I presume they came out poorly for it. Did you happen to get a hint to their allegiance, or their approach vector?"

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"At least one is dead and the others likely wish to be. Unfortunately, they were quite well hidden until they disturbed my whelplings, and bore no tabard or insignia."

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"I'll have it looked into."

Easiest would be reviewing Karin's memories, likely - she has a ridiculously broad range, but unfortunately not enough attentional capacity to track everyone at the same time. He also hasn't had her or another sensor tracking Ellisaria's every little motion, just broad movements. He'll have to look at their current workloads, see if shifting people around is reasonable, and how it balances against risking annoying their neighbor.

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"As you like. So long as it wasn't any of your people."

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"If it was they were acting without orders and deserved what they got."

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"Quite. I would be interested to know if your investigations bear any fruit."

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"I can send a messenger hawk. If there's anything you can relay about their elemental natures or fighting style, that would also help."

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"One was fond of lightning."

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"Lightning's a rare affinity. That should help narrow things down, some."

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"They were also all capable of moving through rock, if that's relevant."

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He shakes his head. "That's a common technique, unfortunately. Moving the rock they're in usually messes with it."

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"As will melting it."

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"That's an even better deterrent, yes."

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"I found it so. But if you have no business of your own, I will be taking my leave."

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"A protocol or signal for quickly contacting you wouldn't go amiss. Usually we use chakra flares and sensors to interpret them, but there's also seals that can be linked together for quicker communications, or technological solutions."

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"A seal perhaps would be the easiest solution. My lair was not designed for human habitation."

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"I'll send you with one. The most reliable ones just do alert flares - those can be used for a dot-code communication. More usable ones can relay more complex messages, but sometimes fail."

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"I don't know your dot-code."

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"Our best bet is likely a simple seal for an emergency flare, then, and a more complex one for communication. I can show you how to activate them - people who can manipulate chakra at all usually get the trick quickly."

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"Please do."

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He'll beckon her inside so he can fetch his supplies, then draw out the paired seals. He's not really explaining what he's doing, that requires talking, but he's not stopping her from looking, and he'll answer questions, albeit with as few words as possible. He then walks her through molding chakra and putting it into the seal.

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She manages it.

...Distinctively different than mana, this chakra.

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The flare seals light up for as long as she's channeling chakra through hers - Sasuke explains that it also gives a small burst of chakra, which is unique to the seal and either he or one of his warden sensors will pick up on it. 

The communication seal transmits sound, a bit wonkily, and cuts out if she shifts too much or her chakra isn't even, but it functions well enough.

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It's likely to serve the purpose. It will do.

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He nods, asks her if there's anything else, then forces out standard parting pleasantries.

(Why did he think leading a village wouldn't require far too much interacting with people.)

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She takes the seals, and they get folded up with her clothes as she transforms to fly home.

When she gets back, she secures the seals in the main room. Then, she starts experimenting with shaping chakra.

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It's not straightforward - the chakra wants to flow in its normal patterns, and is resistant to change, and misbehaves in different ways according to her emotions. But it's fairly easy to push small things away from her skin (even entirely on accident) - then to make them stick - then to balance them a small amount away, then farther. Elemental shaping is harder, both to manage and to control. 

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She has lots of time to practice. Assuming nothing else bothers her.

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Sasuke, meanwhile, is having a rather stressful time. Konoha seems to have moved against Ame - and given the information he's been getting in trickles and bits, that seems like a very, very bad move.

His few remaining Konoha spies catch wind of Jiraiya's death at the hands of Ame's - and the Akatsuki's - leader.

(He also doesn't know what to do with Itachi, his feelings about her have been all over the place (thinking he'd killed her was horrible beyond measure and he still can't believe he got the Mangekyou out of that), and if he can convert her, she'll be tremendously useful, but he doesn't trust her and she has no reason to trust him, and it's hypocritical of him telling his people to work alongside their enemies while he refuses to make a move one way or the other on his...)

But then he catches wind of the Akatsuki moving.

He's not sure he can leave his village undefended. He's not sure the Akatsuki won't take this opportunity to secure Isobu.

He sends an emergency missive - with Isobu on its heels - to the monastery, he knows the head monk there is powerful, and she accepts which is one problem off his mind - 

He arranges for his usual guard to take over Sound, she really does watch him do paperwork enough - 

And his second fastest hawk wings at full speed into Ellisaria's territory a few weeks after they last spoke, while his fastest carries an emergency missive to Konoha, him and a strike team as close behind as they can.

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The hawk finds her at home, as is typical. Her lair has slowly been growing more refined as she spends time there.

She's in human form. She finds chakra easier to manage like this, similar to the more delicate spells.

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"Emergency!" the hawk screeches. "The Akatsuki are attacking another nation's hidden village in force."

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"And the boy requests my aid? Very well."

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"Which way?"

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He has a map, and can point the direction and give landmarks, both for Konoha and for the last known location and heading of the relevant hostiles.

"You might want to try meeting up with Sasuke-sama," he says. "We were tracking the Akatsuki's approach but they have rapid movement capabilities, it might change very quickly."

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"I expect that will not be difficult. We are going the same way."

And she takes off, winging swiftly across the land.

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His hawk veers to meet her when Karin senses her approach. "I suspect you're faster than us!" he shouts. "Are you willing to take Karin with you?"

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She pulls level with them. "As long as we are expected."

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"I opened communications well in advance, before we even decided for sure what to do. They know to expect us." 'Hawk carrying communications seal' is an odd use case, but it's useful for rapidly changing emergencies.

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Karin jumps over.

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There's a natural-ish place to sit at the base of her neck, below her crest and just in front of the shoulders of her wings. Dragonhide is not exactly comfortable, but that spot offers a minimum of jostling.

"Hold on." And off they go.

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Karin appreciates not having to use chakra to stick to Ellisaria's back, she has plenty but it's best to minimize waste.

She directs Ellisaria to the mountains nearby Konoha, where a group of seven have killed everyone at a border station and seem to be preparing to move out.

"There's more elsewhere - that Deidara is on the other side of Konoha - but these felt the most dangerous," she says. "The six except the blue-haired woman feel linked, they might be able to communicate or otherwise use techniques more easily among themselves."

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"A challenge, then. Well enough."

She strafes the enemy, coating the area with shadowflame.

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Her flames are blocked by a truly ludicrous amount of paper, and the purple haired woman sprouts wings made of the same before launching herself into the air, papers swirling.

The six others take off in different directions.

Gravity around Ellisaria starts misbehaving rather rudely, a pinpoint black hole opening above her, another below her near her head, and one man, a significant portion of his body replaced by or enhanced with metal, fires a series of rockets at her.

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Tsk. One would think paper would be more flammable. She repurposes an old Outland trick, shifting form for just long enough to cast a pair of slow fall spells on herself and her passenger. She shifts back and grabs Karin before she can drift away and wings off at entirely different heading much less troubled by the gravitational anomaly, handily evading the rockets.

Permalink Eye

Three of the linked shinobi, including the rocket launcher, start angling for Konoha on different headings, while more gravitational anomalies open around and in front of Ellisaria. There's an alarm from the direction of the village, and one glances towards it, scowling, and gestures - 

And a massive gravitational anomaly begins opening over the village's center.

(The paper woman, meanwhile, is continuing to harry Ellisaria).

Permalink Eye

The paper woman would be much more threatening if she were made of something other than paper. Which is still flammable, unlike herself.

"Suggestions?"

Permalink Eye

"Kill the one forming the anomaly. That one over there seems responsible," Karin says.

Right as Konan determines 'cut into weak points' isn't working and sends a hailstorm of paper to surge up Ellisaria's body, aiming for encasing her head - and incidentally attacking the sensor.

Permalink Eye

She flares her considerable chakra outwards, pushing against the paper.

Permalink Eye

It flares - then arcs inwards.

It appears to be multiplying, small seals on it sparking and summing more beside it.

Permalink Eye

Fel take this woman. Paper. This is absurd. She shifts form for a split second, just long enough to reorient and grab Karin in her claws. "Don't fight this," she says, bringing the girl in front of her face.

The reds say that life is their domain, but this they share in common with the other flights. The fire that elevates, that purges weakness, that brings strength. The binding of mortal soul to dragon fate. This is the ascension of a dragonborn. Or the first half of it, anyway. There will be time for the rest later.

Ellisaria ignites in flame, a crackling aura that denies the existence of that which is not the Obsidian Dragonflight. The burns this begins to inflict on the girl held in her grip are washed away in an instant by the fire streaming from her mouth to bathe Karin. The Blessing of Flame is painful, but while it burns her within and without, she will not be hindered by the paper.

She wings down after the man indicated to be forming the anomaly.

Permalink Eye

Karin grunts, but seems to recognize she's healing, and flares her chakra oddly.

Permalink Eye

A massive animal with an armored, spiked back, easily Isobu's size, eyes purple and rippled, appears over him in a cloud of smoke, and cranes its short neck to look at her, barbed tail whipping.

Permalink Eye

Tail's likely venomous, treat with caution. Might have limited vision because of the short neck, but has the same eyes as the humans. Linked to their communication? Armor thick enough to be trusted as defense.

Start with shadowflame breath attack, reassess options based on reaction.

Permalink Eye

It grunts and seems agitated, and the flame definitely destroys some of its armor, but it isn't outright killed.

(The paper woman appears to have backed off for now. Ellisaria might notice a roiling mass of paper in the distance.)

Permalink Eye

Right. She'll hit the attack again, but this time use it as a distraction to drop down close and get a look at its underside. Is it more vulnerable than the back?

The paper's going to have to take care of itself for now. Maybe some reinforcements will show up.

Permalink Eye

It's hard to get a look at the underside without landing - the thing's legs are incredibly short compared to its size. There's some plating on the belly, though, but it doesn't look as thick.

Permalink Eye

She lands-

Permalink Eye

-and immediately shifts into human form. Blinking to underneath the beast-

Permalink Eye

-she shifts back, the sudden displacement overbalancing the creature overhead.

Permalink Eye

It rocks back on its hind legs, snorting, and swings around, trying to bring its tail to bear - 

There's a shimmer in the air at the edge of her vision, a barely-there warble - 

Permalink Eye

She launches back and up, taking off again and attacking the creature's belly with her fire.

Permalink Eye

It screams, and then vanishes in a dense, opaque cloud of smoke.

Permalink Eye

The human is her next target, now that the defender is neutralized.

Permalink Eye

He's no longer where he was - and he's fast, and fully capable of trailing destruction and bodies behind him, moving towards Konoha even as the anomaly grows ever more and even as the border guards angle in on him.

Permalink Eye

(There's a familiar hawk in the distance, approaching quickly.)

Permalink Eye

Probably more suited than her to clean up whatever nonsense is left behind.

She pursues the man, though if the others are on the way, she's open to targets of opportunity.

Permalink Eye

The anomaly surges, pulses with waves of force flowing out where it'd been attracting things before - 

Sasuke appears over the city, an enormous glowing warrior folded around him, mirror shield raised. It deflects a significant part of the attack.

Not all of it. It's a big village. Significant chunks have just been not only flattened but driven into a crater.

Sasuke immediately has to spin around to fend off a series of rockets fired at city center, then explosives from the other direction - 

The anomaly-forming person can at least be found by Ellisaria. He doesn't seem to be doing anything right now, but there's a sort of tension in the air around him.

Permalink Eye

She strafes him, flame pouring out thick and wide.

Permalink Eye

He's able to dodge the bulk of it, or weakly fend it off.

After a few seconds, a blast of repulsive force slams into her, hard enough to pulverize reinforced concrete.

Permalink Eye

She's knocked back, wings flailing wildly as she careens towards the ground. Doesn't seem like she'll be able to correct in time to prevent a crash landing.

That's... nngh. That's some broken bones. With any luck, whatever she lands on will be relatively soft-

Permalink Eye

Some paper breaks her crash landing into the mountainside! It's not very cushion-like, though. Rather stiff.

And then it explodes.

Permalink Eye

She's more hurt by the additional jostling than the explosion itself. But now that she's on the ground-

Permalink Eye

-the agility offered by a smaller body is going to do her more good at this point. The pain fades to a dull ache in her side as she dashes off.

Permalink Eye

Shinobi, unfortunately, are exceptionally agile.

And that sure is a lot of paper arcing over and spinning around her.

(A humanoid, winged figure is only distantly visible in the mess.)

Permalink Eye

Ellisaria can use chakra to dart around too.

But she is very much done with the paper. The explosions have scraped bare a patch on the mountainside; she rips the earth out and uses it as an ablative shield to cover her advance toward the figure. Since fire has proven largely ineffectual, she begins preparing a lightning spell, sparks crackling around her fingertips. She only needs twenty seconds or so, and uses that time to get in range.

Permalink Eye

Not all of the paper appears to be attacking her, though it's unclear what exactly it's doing through the shield.

The figure rises a bit, but doesn't flee or otherwise move too far.

Permalink Eye

Good. A stationary, non-grounded target.

Her spell complete, she casts it. First, a blast of lightning, to shock and stun. It then doubles around on itself, a static cage to bind and paralyze. A thread links her to the cage and down this thread she pours more magic, causing the cage to release bursts of deadly energy, damaging everything in the area.

Permalink Eye

The figure explodes into a cloud of paper.

There's a spear, lancing swiftly at Ellisaria's back.

Permalink Eye

Her shield drops down to slow it so she can twist out of the way.

Damned decoys. Is her spell having an effect of the paper, at least?

Permalink Eye

It's burning some of it.

The paper whirls around her, blocking off her view, except there may be a distant glow, and it's like the air is holding its breath, a feeling of static creeping up - 

Permalink Eye

That's something, anyway. If the attack is working, she can add more power to it. And she'll also pull up more earth, to defend against whatever it is that feels like its approaching.

Permalink Eye

The ground under her tremors as a not particularly distant explosion rocks the earth.

And then the air around her starts to glow and hum.

Permalink Eye

That's almost certainly a bad sign-

Permalink Eye

Very!

The air sort of solidifies, locking her in place, as lines arc in a dome over her and chains burst out of the ground to wrap around her limbs. The paper's disintegrated, revealing a massive seal under her feet.

Permalink Eye

Fel. She shifts to dragon form, but the chains are still there and her ribs are still broken. She blinks straight ahead, maybe she can get out of the seal.

Permalink Eye

At the very extreme end of her range - 

She's just barely able to get out - but the chains appear to be able to extend out of the seal's original range, and are now trying to drag her back.

Permalink Eye

They can burn.

Permalink Eye

It takes a lot of fire - 

But they burn.

The seal deactivates once the chains are broken.

Permalink Eye

Enough distraction. She needs to return to the main battle.

Permalink Eye

She's on a sort of plateau between a line of mountains and a cliff that Konoha clusters around the base of - the edge of it isn't far at all, and there's already combat. Apparently, one of the linked shinobi chose here for the high ground to direct rockets down into the village, and a number of Konoha's finest objected.

There's other battles - Sasuke's translucent warrior is fighting Deidara, a few large animals, and a paper construct, and is defending the village from any other area of effect attacks. There's a few figures tearing through local forces. There's a cleared area, where two people - one of the linked shinobi, and a Konoha shinobi wearing orange - are fighting on their own. 

The Konoha shinobi are all on their back feet, and many of them are dying. None of them seem to be prevailing. Some of Sasuke's soldiers have joined the fight on Konoha's side - with only mixed effectiveness. Sasuke seems to be doing the single most good, but he's stuck on defense at the moment.

Permalink Eye

Well then. Since her mobility is relatively limited, she'll start with the closest and work from there.

Hands wreathed in black flame, she attacks the rocket launcher from behind.

Permalink Eye

He's more easy to damage than the gravity generator was, but he doesn't go down immediately - and has enough time to launch a few rockets her way.

Permalink Eye

She dodges as she can, but one or two hits will not be the end of her.

Permalink Eye

The hits are hard and dangerous - 

But she's deadlier than him, especially once he's been worn down.

"Thanks!" a Konoha shinobi shouts, breathing heavily. "Can you destroy the body? They keep getting back up, we're not sure how - "

Permalink Eye

She incinerates the body. Fire is the first resort, and the last.

Permalink Eye

He thanks her again. "We need to move on the other Paths, now. We'll leave a guard here just in case." Several of the less injured shinobi have already taken off, and a few others are helping casualties off the field.

Permalink Eye

"Do you have battlefield healers?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes - the Fifth is our best, she's healing everyone right now, or at least all of ours - you might be able to get one of her slugs, as a temporary ally. We're also setting up field hospitals for more extreme cases, to help take the load off her."

(He, indeed, has a slimy lump attached to the back of his neck.)

Permalink Eye

"Where can I find her?"

Permalink Eye

"Central command - you're not likely to get close, and she won't have time for anything personal, but there's more slugs at the field hospitals, and around - they detach when their host dies."

"I'm here!" a feminine voice calls from the ground - a much larger slug, about the size of a cat, wriggling out of the forest. A few smaller blobs appear to be jumping into her, and she shifts and grows when they do, and when she passes over the body of a dead slug. "Tsunade-sama authorized giving me's to the Sound forces - I can split off a me now?"

Permalink Eye

"I would appreciate that," she says, shifting to dragon. "Broken ribs, and the wing ligaments feel torn."

Permalink Eye

The slug examines her, and splits off about a third of her mass. The smaller slug jumps up to Ellisaria's neck, sinks in, seems to be connecting herself rather thoroughly - 

And Ellisaria's wounds begin to heal. It's not blindingly fast, nor particularly concentrated, but it's already relieving the pain quite dramatically.

"I can keep it from getting worse from normal movement, but not from another blow," the slug on her neck reports, while the larger one on the ground returns to gathering slug-bodies.

Permalink Eye

"That will have to do." She can fly again, at least, even if she'll still have to fight in mortal form. Best to leave the giants' battle alone, then. She will seek one of the solo enemies.

Permalink Eye

There's one - a shimmering barrier around him, apparently absorbing all attacks, and draining anyone it touches of life.

Permalink Eye

Can it absorb her magic as well?

Permalink Eye

Seems to be able to absorb mana, yes.

(The man is also separately deadly, throwing rather large attacks at anyone who's staying out of reach. One girl in particular is giving him trouble - her chosen method seems to be 'stay at a distance and rain down sharp pointy hell', and the weapons are getting through - but she's clearly tired and already injured.)

Permalink Eye

A mana barrier of some flavor, perhaps. Usually it is possible to overload those, but if this one is physically vulnerable, it would be better to conserve her effort. She snatches a pair of deflected daggers from the ground and closes to attack. Magic is her preferred combat style, but one does not live five thousand years without learning more than one trick.

Permalink Eye

It drains her mana - and her chakra, and her general feeling of energy and well being - when she touches it, but doesn't actually impede her approach.

The man himself is fast, and quickly moves to block her daggers.

Permalink Eye

Should be an opening for the girl with the projectiles, at least.

Permalink Eye

It is!

She flings an enormous axe, large enough it's questionable how someone her stature was picking it up - and follows it with explosives launched at the man's back. He has to dodge, and then turn to fend off her hail of weaponry, leaving a possible opening for Ellisaria.

Permalink Eye

Which she's quick to exploit, of course.

Permalink Eye

He blocks her, lashes out hard, a shield of wind swirling between them then stabbing at her - 

And he grunts as the girl throws a sword through his gut.

Permalink Eye

She counters the wind with a sheet of rock, and goes for a decapitation.

Permalink Eye

He dodges, using a wind blast to knock the girl off her feet, and lashing for Ellisaria with a hand sheathed in water sharpened like a drill.

Permalink Eye

Of course it can't be easy. She jumps backward for a bit of breathing space and starts tearing up chunk of earth to pelt him with.

Permalink Eye

Most of them are pulverized before they can reach him, and he easily dodges the others. Water tears its way out of the nearby pipes, spiraling towards her.

Permalink Eye

Mm. This is not going especially well. She can hold him off, but he's too focused to kill alone. She starts pulsing her chakra in the dot-code pattern. With luck, her half-Ascended sensor will respond.

Permalink Eye

He's not wasting the water he's gathering, and the more he has the greater and faster his blows.

Permalink Eye

Though the girl's back on her feet and giving him trouble - 

Permalink Eye

And soon enough an angry and on fire Karin arrives. She thrusts a palm out and a chain lashes at their target, smashing his barriers and forcing him to dodge. Then, to Ellisaria: "You have some explaining to do, but for now - plan?" She doesn't seem particularly affected by being-on-fire, except for how it's possible contributing to her ill temper.

Permalink Eye

"This one is immune to chakra and magic, but affected by physical attacks. We need to distract him enough to drop his guard, then kill him. Ranged attacks are best, he can drain you if you get too close."

Permalink Eye

"I'm at a disadvantage there - I have plenty of chakra, but my main immediate attack's solidified chakra. That barrier weakened it. I wonder... Distract him while I talk to weapon girl, okay? I might have an idea."

Permalink Eye

"Don't take too long about it. There are other battles to fight."

Back into the fray.

Permalink Eye

There's a good bit of conspiring - fast - and dragging someone else into the plot - also fast - 

And then a bright, triangular seal springs into place under their opponent's feet, hums, brushes against his absorption barrier, and then explodes quite spectacularly and messily.

There's a sharp laugh from weapons girl, and a "I told you those'd conflict!" from Karin.

Permalink Eye

But does it do enough damage?

Permalink Eye

He's not dead but as the dust clears he's certainly badly injured. He bursts forwards, putting on more speed than before, is faster than Karin, his main target - 

Permalink Eye

-is not quite fast enough not to run into a dragon tail swinging the other way at speed.

Permalink Eye

He's thrown, but he gets up, glances her way - 

Permalink Eye

"Rocket guy's back up!" Karin shouts -

As a hailstorm of explosives arcs for them from the clifftop.

Permalink Eye

Someone's cheating. She sends a flare of lightning to intercept the rockets.

Permalink Eye

Shield guy is backing up, apparently trying to get distance, possibly to heal - 

Permalink Eye

A faintly shimmer but basically invisible whip wraps around weapon girl's waist, and drags her into... Something.

Permalink Eye

And there are more rockets behind the ones destroyed.

Permalink Eye

If they're going to cheat, then so will she. She flashes a mirror image beside her to keep handling the rockets, while she herself goes after the shielder.

"If you can do that again," she snarls over her shoulder, "now would be a good time."

Permalink Eye

"That one needs three people - I'll figure something out - "

(That 'something' looks like a whirlwind of glowing chains that sink into the ground around their target. It doesn't make the shield explode again - instead the shield flickers out, and small burns form on the man's exposed skin when he tries to reinforce it.)

Permalink Eye

If that means he's vulnerable to magic now, she'll take it.

Permalink Eye

He seems to be.

Permalink Eye

Good.

Permalink Eye

He's still fast, but his injuries slow him down just enough that he's vulnerable, and he's now putting most of his energy into trying to retreat.

Permalink Eye

She declines to give him a chance to.

Permalink Eye

He'll die, though not without a fight.

Permalink Eye

The important part is that he does die. This time, she dismembers the corpse before incinerating it.

Permalink Eye

"Another of the linked bodies had approached the one you downed earlier, and flared his chakra right before it reconstituted. I think it's possible there's some external technique he has rather than the bodies just regenerating; I'm not sure if it's one of the ones that's linked to one specific body, though."

Permalink Eye

"How convenient for him. I don't suppose you'd know something like a banishment seal?"

Permalink Eye

"If I knew specifically what I was banishing. Trapping is easier usually."

Permalink Eye

"If we remove the bodies from the battlefield entirely, they will at least need to work harder to bring them back."

Permalink Eye

"Taking off with a body sealed in a storage scroll, maybe, and I can make it a pain to open. I'll need to find a large enough scroll..."

Permalink Eye

"Go find others to assist you. I shall guard this one."

Permalink Eye

"Right. The nearest of our forces are a bit out, but I'll see if anyone from Konoha's willing to do what I say."

And she's off.

Permalink Eye

Ellisaria keeps watch. Any threats imminent?

Permalink Eye

The fight between giants seems like it might spill over at any moment, despite Sasuke's best attempts to keep it contained - and he's not flagging yet, but he's being increasingly cautious with his attacks.

And - 

There's a feeling that washes over the battlefield.

Something old and powerful is very, very angry, and would like everyone around him to die now, or at least bask in fear of his presence.

Permalink Eye

Reminds her of Deathwing.

Hopefully this thing's on her side.

Permalink Eye

Based on the way the shinobi around her are on the verge of panic in a way they weren't before, and her opponents seem to also be focusing towards it - 

The answer seems to be "nobody's side."

(Sasuke abandons the fight he's in and turns towards where a red glow is peaking past the buildings, jumping over to it.)

Permalink Eye

Not as bad as it could possibly be, at least.

Suppose she'd better go investigate too, if everyone else is.

Permalink Eye

There's a creature, about the size of a horse, body formed of boiling blood, eight tails lashing behind it and a ninth forming, several of Konoha's shinobi speared by black rods before it, one of the shared bodies of her opponents standing across from it, face placid, holding other black rods that he throws at Sasuke when he appears.

Permalink Eye

Ah, a tailed beast. Sasuke might have done better to not attract attention so, and merely hung back to contain the damage.

Permalink Eye

Sasuke raises a shield that rather handily blocks the black rods, and turns to face the tailed beast, going briefly very still - 

And then the blood forming the beast's body bursts out, revealing an injured boy around Sasuke's age, his face twisted in anger and grief.

Sasuke then has to spin, to hold off another attack.

Permalink Eye

The boy gets to his feet, seeming to struggle with something going by his facial expressions, before he falls back from the battle and turns to Ellisaria.

"You're that flying ally of Sasuke's, right? I think - there's a main body controlling the Paths. I think I can sense where it is. Maybe. But - we need to stop him at the source."

Permalink Eye

"That meshes with what my sensor told me. Come. I am unwilling to shift so close to active combat with the injuries I have already sustained."

Permalink Eye

"Pein might try to follow me. He's after the Kyuubi. But I think Sasuke's distracting him." He glances at the bodies, expression going a bit sad, before he turns and leaps to the top of the nearest section of rubble.

Permalink Eye

She jumps as well, moving away from the fight. "You are a jinchuuriki, then. What is the name of your prisoner?"

Permalink Eye

"Haven't asked. He tries to eat me then threatens everyone I love whenever we talk, so, lots of talking isn't easy."

Permalink Eye

"Perhaps he is Kurama, then. Isobu said he hated humans." She pauses.

Permalink Eye

"This should be far enough. Climb onto my back. Mind the side."

Permalink Eye

He jumps up, anchoring himself with chakra and avoiding her injured sides rather neatly. "Maybe he'll stop shouting long enough for me to ask, eventually." He gives her directions on where he last sensed the main body.

Permalink Eye

She flies.

"If we win today, you might take him to visit Isobu. Seeing a familiar face may brighten his mood."

Permalink Eye

"Isobu's one of the others?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes. The Three Tails. He is currently unbound."

Permalink Eye

"How's he - doing? Pervy Sage said the tailed beasts were just monsters, but... Nine Tails is a grump but he talks. Also Sakura threatens me way more often."

Permalink Eye

"Hmph. The Tailed Beasts are the children of your Sage of the Six Paths, and at least as intelligent as you. They were created to look after this world. Isobu seemed happy to able to work his task again after being freed from his cage."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I'll have to talk to him... Not sure I can let him go without dying though, even if he promises not to eat anyone..."

Permalink Eye

"You will die eventually, as all mortals do. If you do not wish to accelerate the process, then you ought to make provisions for when it occurs of its own accord."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Get him a bit less angry. Maybe set it up - don't know if I can - so no one else'll try trapping him."

Permalink Eye

"Then you have a purpose to work towards, which is helpful in guiding one's growth."

Permalink Eye

"Always said I'd find my own path. Decided to make friends when everyone else was saying fight."

He leans forwards. "Think we're almost there. Speaking of friends - I want to try talking to Pein, 'stead of just setting everything on fire. I think he knows he's losing, and he's wrong. I want to know why all this."

Permalink Eye

"Very well. It is your life to wager."

Permalink Eye

"Yup! And there's the source of the energy." He points. It's sheltered by trees, but the nearest open area to land in isn't too far off - above the opening in fact, where the trees pull away from a cliff-side.

Permalink Eye

She lands with a slightly heavier thud than usual. She gives her passenger a couple seconds to climb off before shifting out of dragon form.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks for the lift!" he says after jumping down. "Wanna come with me?"

Permalink Eye

"That seems more likely to be interesting than waiting here."

Permalink Eye

"Right!"

He jumps down the slope, sliding to a halt outside the entrance to a cave.

There's a rustling as he does so.

Permalink Eye

Oh no, not more paper. How many times will she be required to kill that girl today?

Permalink Eye

"Hey! Hey, paper lady! I wanna talk to Pein. Not gonna start anything. Just talk."

She forms, glares at him - 

Then steps aside. "He wishes to speak with you as well. I will be watching."

And she dissolves.

Permalink Eye

Isn't that convenient. Perhaps there will be a conversation after all.

Permalink Eye

He strides into the central chamber, where a withered husk of a man sits connected to what seems to be life support. The chamber is coated in paper, of course.

"You're the real one, aren't you," Naruto says.

"So peace has come, has it," Pain muses, apparently ignoring Naruto's words. "Do you hate me? Now that I'm before you, weakened... You want your revenge, for all those who lie slain. The teachers. The friends. The young boy. That girl who tried to protect you... That friend of yours, returned to a village he hates for the sake of a flimsy peace. His shield failed. That peace he's built won't last, now."

Naruto frowns. Clenches his fist. Doesn't answer, not yet.

"And you?" Pain asks Ellisaria. "You have little connection to this world. Tell me, what have you seen of our hatred?"

Permalink Eye

"Petty mortal grievances, the same as I have seen in a thousand other times and places. I care not for your so-called hatred. You all die eventually, and others come to repeat your mistakes. That is what it means to be mortal and foolish. I am here now, setting myself against you, because from what I have seen, their regard for this world and its guardians is greater than yours."

Permalink Eye

"I will bring peace to this world - everyone will know one another's pain, as I have known, and they will lay down their arms, and any who try to raise an army against another will be laid low," Pain says, voice agitated.

"Pain - that's your big thing, isn't it. And yeah, I'm in pain! I'm mad! But that doesn't make me want to set aside my weapons or lower my fists - that - that makes me want to destroy everything you have - the only way to understand each other is to talk, that stuff about true warriors only understanding each other in battle is stupid!" Naruto declares, sharply. "You destroying Konoha because of what Konoha did to your village doesn't make things right or fair - it just worsens the cycle of hatred!"

Pain scoffs, and gestures. "Your answer is weak - " And a black bolt lances into Naruto's stomach. "You are under my control - "

Naruto stands, clenches his fists, and grits out, "No. I'm. Not. The only way - the only way to solve war isn't more war, it's healing. It's - it's what Sasuke was doing. You say his way's stupid - even some idiot like me knows everyone in Orochimaru's forces hated each other, and that Orochimaru was threatening them into line - even some idiot like me, who no one tells anything, knows his people aren't fighting themselves. Not like everyone thought they would. People are talking. Rice Fields is - is getting big - Sasuke talked a tailed beast into moving into his country and Sasuke quite frankly sucks at talking to anyone, except apparently he's the only leader willing to even try! We're not at war because human nature is just like that, we're at war because no one's trying! No one holds out their hand, or apologizes, or tries to help the people they hurt!"

He takes a deep breath. "I'm going to change that! I'm going to become Hokage, and I'm not going to fight a single war because I'm! Going! To! Try! I'll help everyone Konoha's hurt, I'll help us all grow together and be friends and heal of our pain, because pain doesn't make you understand, it makes you close off, and it's when we're happy and calm that we can look at each other without bias, without anger."

He points a finger at Pain. "I'll help you, too! I'll be Ame's ally, and Oto's, and everyone's! If some asshole like Sasuke can be friends with a tailed beast, then I'll be friends with everyone! And if there's such a thing as peace, I'll find it!"

Pain seems taken aback, to say the least.

Permalink Eye

He has spirit, at least. She wants to see how this plays out.

Permalink Eye

"Those were the words Jiraiya wrote in his book. He was my teacher too, and... That book was about you, wasn't it? He says at the end his pupil inspired him to write it. And he wrote it trying to change the world, to convince people to embrace peace and each other..." He draws the book out of his pocket. "And the name of the main character is Naruto! Like your name, isn't it Nagato? And I was named from this book, and that legacy carries on into me! I'll carry it strongly, and even if I can't bring true peace in my lifetime it's a legacy I'll pass on, and someone will!"

Nagato pauses, and a pensive look passes over his face. "We studied under the same master, and some would say that does make us better able to understand each other... You're an odd kid. Like myself, when I was young... I couldn't believe in that path Jiraiya preached... But you've chosen your own path, haven't you? I see a different future in you..." He looks up, then forms his hands into a seal. "I will believe in you, Uzumaki Naruto," he says. His chakra gathers, heavy on the air, and - "Gedo Rinne no Jutsu," he intones as it shapes itself, the world rippling around him.

"Nagato!" the paper woman says, sharply. "You can't - !"

"Konan, it's enough," Nagato says. "There's a new path now - or an old one, that I'd given up on."

"Wait - what's going on - ?" Naruto asks. "What is this - "

"The outer path," Konan says. "Life and death."

"Because there's still time for me to undo what I have done, and restore those slain by this fight," Nagato says, voice soft as he concentrates, before slumping.

"You..." Naruto says, voice upset. 

"War brings death and pain and wounds," Nagato pants out. "And death is the hardest of all, so you believe no one you love could ever die... That senseless death and pain is what you must face going forward, but for now... For now I can forestall it... With the last time given to me..."

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A resurrection spell? Interesting.

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Nagato crumples, and the life seems to leave him.

Konan catches his body in her paper, cradling him.

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One reason why such a spell is not more common. How's the boy take it?

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He's turned to Konan. "What're you going to do, now?" he asks. "Are you returning to Akatsuki?"

"I'm through with them," she says, as she wraps Nagato in her paper. "I'll return to Amegakure, now. They'll need a leader. Stability." She pauses, considering them both. "Nagato entrusted his dream to you. I don't know that I agree. But... I'll give it a chance. For now, consider Amegakure an ally to whatever peaceful endeavor you build." To Ellisaria, then: "Either of you. You fought well, and intelligently."

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"I am no builder. What of your erstwhile comrades-in-arms?"

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"I have ordered them to retreat. What they do past that is Madara's business."

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"The one who wears a mask? That is not Uchiha Madara, if you care."

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"Nagato might've. It's not surprising to me. Whoever he is, he's long been a driving force behind Akatsuki. He's more powerful than he pretends."

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"I am aware."

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"I won't betray Amegakure's secrets - but I'll send the information I do have on this 'Madara' and whoever remains loyal to him after this. To Konoha, and - you have allied yourself with Otogakure?"

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"So it seems."

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"Then I'll send that information to them."

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"I'm sure they'll thank you."

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"We'll see if anything comes of their peace attempts. Though they are doing well, for a nation that so recently suffered such a complete change of leadership." She tilts her head back. "I grow weary of this, and I need to return to Amegakure before any others do."

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"Don't let us keep you."

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She inclines her head, and vanishes in a swirl of paper alongside her friend's corpse.

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"Well then. Shall we return ourselves, and see the results of your parlay?"

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"Yeah. Konoha deserves an explanation... And I want to - make sure."

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"Very sensible," she says, reverting her form.

Once the boy is aboard, she flies back to the village.

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There seem to be people trying to get their attention, nearby a space large enough for Ellisaria to land in. They look mostly like Konoha shinobi.

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She won't keep them waiting, then.

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A bearded, dark-haired, pale man in a jounin vest steps forward when she lands. "I'm Nara Shikaku, jounin commander of Konoha," he calls out. "Thank you for your help."

"What's happened?" Naruto asks, jumping down.

"We could ask you that. People have started coming back to life - we haven't found everyone buried, but no one seems to be getting re-crushed by rubble," he says, voice casual.

"Yeah - uh, Nagato, the guy behind Pein, I kind of talked him into not attacking and I guess he decided to undo the attack? Did the Akatsuki withdraw, Konan said she'd get them to..." Naruto asks, bouncing.

"They all retreated," Shikaku confirms. "We'll want a full debrief from you, Naruto. I was instructed to get you to the command tent."

Naruto hesitates. "I mean, that doesn't say I can't take a detour..." Shikaku's lips twitch, and Naruto plows on with, "I really want to check on Hinata and Sasuke! They're close to here, and - " He goes quiet.

"That's acceptable," Shikaku says. Then, to Ellisaria, "Where are you planning on heading? You're welcome to stay the night in the area if you need to."

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"There are one or two things I must attend to here, but I don't expect they will take terribly long. I will accompany the boy to see Sasuke. And ensure he moves on in a timely fashion. As a favor."

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Naruto pouts, but Shikaku smiles a bit. "Heh. I'll come along too. Wouldn't want him getting lost."

"You're both mean," Naruto grumbles, but perks up when Shikaku indicates he can lead the way.

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Off to see Sasuke, then.

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He's resting, apparently, and looking away from Juugo, who's looming over him and seems exasperated.

Karin's leaning rather grumpily - and still on fire - against an upturned piece of concrete.

Sasuke turns to look in the vague direction of their group - and it's hard to tell at this distance, but he doesn't seem to be looking directly at them. Still, he doesn't say anything.

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"Can someone please explain what happened now? Ellisaria? - And you're Naruto, right? And some Konoha jounin... I guess there's official demands, now."

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Naruto gives a quick summary - he talked to Nagato, Nagato put everyone back, Konan called off the Akatsuki and left - then bounces past Sasuke to check on a girl being fussed over by medics in the background.

"We wouldn't mind some information at some point, but it'll hardly be an interrogation," Shikaku says neutrally. "Your aid went far."

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"There will be time for that later. You should go follow that one, Nara."

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He glances over. "Naruto seems hardly likely to run off right now, but I'll let you be," he says, waving and meandering off to hover sort of closer to Naruto but still technically in the middle of their two groups.

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Fine. This isn't very secret, anyway.

"Now that we have a moment to think, Karin, you have a choice to make. Right now, you are a half-Ascended dragonsworn. To complete the process, you must drink of my blood. This will grant you power; magic, keener senses, greater strength, resistance to fire, the ability to shift into a form like mine, longer life. It will also create a connection between you and I. I will be able to tell where you are, and speak with you telepathically. Alternatively, I can craft an amulet that will suppress the dragonfire, and you can remain as you are. It will take a week, and if you remove or misplace the amulet, its protection will be lost and you will revert to this state."

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She glances at Sasuke. "Does that include a loyalty oath, of any kind?"

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"Traditionally, yes. Under the circumstances, I shall not require it. But if you feel yourself compelled to offer one anyway, I will not refuse you. You have... potential."

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She glances at Sasuke again, asks, "What do you think, Sasuke?"

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"Sounds useful."

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"Right. Well then, I'm for it."

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She puts her thumb in her mouth and bites down, then extends her hand in Karin's direction, a bright red droplet blossoming on the ball.

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"Do I put your thumb in my mouth, or..."

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"You need to ingest the blood. It does not have to be more than a drop."

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She'll drink a drop, then.

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It tastes of stone and salt, soil and ash. As the blood hits her tongue, the nimbus of fire surrounding her begins burning in reverse, pulling itself in through her skin and changing her in its wake. Her skin cracks and splits, revealing a coat of darkly gleaming scale, muscle bulging underneath. Her spine twists and lengthens as her skull extends and a crest fans out from where her hairline used to be. Claws push through her fingers and toes and fangs force their way out of her jaw. Her natural posture now is leaning forward, counterbalanced by her new tail. The world is sharper, with more information available to her eyes and ears and nose.

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She frowns, and will try to shift back to human. If it doesn't work, she applies the Transformation Technique to get at least a seeming for now.

(Her sensory range isn't any different, but she thinks she might be able to get more information out of the sensory overlay technique now...)

(She'll have to practice, test to see if the increased physical might increased her yang chakra at all, too.)

"Thanks."

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"Your human form waits within. Reach inside, and pull it out. Later, I can show you how to acquire new forms."

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She'll do that.

"I'll admit, I'm not used to being the physically strong one."

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"Limitations exist to be broken."

Has their little show just now attracted excess attention?

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Given that there was no one around, not really.

Nara Shikaku isn't pretending not to be watching them anymore, though, but he doesn't seem inclined to say anything.

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"How long will you be staying here?"

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"They'll stay or leave with me. I plan to talk to Konoha's Hokage once I get the chance. If they intend to make me wait past nightfall, I'll leave."

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"I will wait with you, then."

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"Alright." He'll lean back, but glance vaguely over to Shikaku, who shrugs and walks over.

"I can tear Naruto away from his little reunion," he says. "Properly, I shouldn't be encouraging you to wander around Konoha on your own."

"Whatever," Sasuke replies. Shikaku inclines his head, then fetches Naruto (who promptly insults Sasuke, who gets mildly riled up but calms down quickly, apparently faster than Naruto was expecting). 

Karin and Juugo fall into step behind Sasuke, who is walking somewhat more slowly than he usually would, chakra fluttering a bit oddly.

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Overexertion, perhaps. Not her area of expertise.

Ellisaria follows them.

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Suigetsu catches up with them on the walk over, and then Naruto's pulled aside just before the command tent, and there's a brief conversation where Sasuke tells Karin to help with search and rescue - she scowls - he tells her to just point out buried people on a map, and Suigetsu to stay with her.

The remaining three - Sasuke, Juugo, Ellisaria - are allowed into the tent, then. There's two elderly shinobi - a man and a woman - waiting for them, alongside two quiet guards.

"I would've expected the Hokage," Sasuke says, voice mild.

"There's still much to be done, and Hokage-sama is our best healer. Surely you understand that, as a leader yourself," the woman responds, voice the same even tone.

Sasuke inclines his head. "Very well."

The woman leans back, says, "Konoha is quite grateful for your help, though, Uchiha-dono, and that of your allies."

"Of course. In fact, I would propose a more firm alliance, details of course to be ironed out once the dust has settled..."

What follows is mostly polite nonsense, Sasuke visibly becoming strained as it goes on - mostly emotionally, his lips whitening every now and then, his eyes narrowing a bit - but for a teenager he does a decent job of suppressing it. Still, the result seems to be that Konoha will consider an alliance. When the Lady Hokage is available, of course.

Sasuke nods deeply to them once they've run in circles a bit, cuts off the conversation, and gestures for his companions to follow him out.

"Sorry for dragging you into that," he mutters to Ellisaria. "But I wanted a moderate show of force. Not that the mess is unexpected... Karin indicated their Hokage's unconscious, still, and Orochimaru's notes on those two were mostly 'obstructionist old coots.' Don't think we'll be getting far, but a good basis for future peace is important..." He shakes his head. "Karin doesn't think the Hokage will be awake anytime soon, and I'm not inclined to wait around."

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"Nor am I. After an incident like this, one should look to one's own security. Or if one is feeling proactive, it could be an opportunity to further weaken one's enemies."

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"Main enemy I'm concerned with right now is Akatsuki."

And some of Konoha's internal structure, but, well, influencing foreign powers to clean house isn't an plan he should announce in the middle of the street.

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"And they are likely to be in disarray. They invested significant resources, and lost their putative leader. Speaking of which, you may wish to make overtures to Amegakure at some point."

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"Now's likely a good time for it, yes. Especially if Konan is sincere."

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"Let me know if you'd like me to make an introduction."

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"I might. It'd help the formalities."

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"You and she will get along, I think. You have a... similar mindset."

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"Maybe." He goes quiet, apparently thoughtful.

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He's welcome to his thoughts.

"Do you need me to fly any of your people home?"

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"I can get everyone."

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"Then if there is nothing else you wish to discuss at this time, I will take my leave. You know how to contact me."

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"Alright."

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She finds a clear space to transform and takes off back towards her lair. She makes a detour to Isobu's lake, to check that he's still there.

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He is, though there's some nervous shinobi around the border, who look up when she arrives.

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They should know she's a friend. And if they don't know, then she's not.

She gives Isobu an accounting of the day's events.

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He's definitely interested, and mostly curious to hear about Kurama's host ("sounds like a nice boy", is Isobu's main comment. "Kurama probably hates him just on sheer principle.")

(Apparently the shinobi are there since there was a concern about Akatsuki trying to get to Isobu, using the Konoha attack as a distraction. Sasuke even called in a favor with the monks. Nothing's happened here, though.)

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That is good to hear. She had also brought up the possibility of a visit, if Isobu would like that.

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That'd be nice, yes, he hasn't gotten to see Kurama - or any of the others, really - in quite a while. 

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She'll follow up next time she sees him, if hasn't happened by then.

With a few pleasantries to conclude the visit, she files the rest of the way home. She doesn't intend to do much for the next while; she needs time to finish healing. The slug kickstarted the process, but her own skills do not trend in that direction. Time and rest, with what magic she can do to help things along.

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Sasuke spends the next few weeks mostly focusing on diplomacy and shoring up his own defenses (the fake Madara had infiltrated at least some of his base, and what he told Sasuke - about Konoha's crimes, about the truth behind his family's death - well, Itachi's confirmed some of it, and the handful of spies Sasuke inherited from Orochimaru have confirmed Tsunade's still out, and that bastard Danzo has been maneuvering to be named Sixth Hokage - )

If it was just Sasuke, he would've already left to confront and maybe kill Danzo. But he has an entire village to look after, and a significant amount of responsibility for the whole nation is on his shoulders, and it's not just his own life or even Itachi's he'd be setting on fire - 

He does trade eyes with Itachi, restoring both their lost vision, and sets her free, starts integrating her into his guards on her request. 

He tightens his alliance with Amegakure, makes inroads on his more immediate neighbors, does what he can to help the daimyo improve trade...

And then the Akatsuki apparently have recovered enough to move against Kumo, stealing the last of that village's jinchuuriki, and a Five Kage Summit is called.

Sasuke spends maybe ten minutes hesitating over whether to (diplomatically) crash the summit, before deciding his coalition is strong enough and, anyways, he's allied with one of the two bijuu no longer under Akatsuki control.

The actual Kage can each bring two guards into the summit itself. It'll be polite to keep to that. Karin would be invaluable, but he's refined his communication with her enough he doesn't need her hovering over his shoulder, so she can stay with the larger entourage...

He sends a message to Konan, in case she wants to join him, and goes to find Ellisaria. Itachi's the only guard with him, Karin staying behind to manage his tightened defenses.

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They're stopped at the entrance to her lair by a rumbling mass of earth assembled into a vaguely humanoid shape, holding what looks suspiciously like a sword and shield made of rock.

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He'll stop, won't push the boundary, but will loudly call out, "Ellisaria?"

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There's a rustle from deeper within, and she emerges to stand beside the construct.

"What is it, boy?"

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"The Akatsuki moved against another one of the big five, this time Kumo, capturing their jinchuuriki, and there's been a Five Kage Summit called. I plan to show up - the smaller nations need a say in world decisions, and we're now allied with one of the only two bijuu remaining outside of Akatsuki's control. The Kage are being allowed to bring two guards with them, and I was curious if you would wish to accompany me, as an ally or as an independent party. It'll be a lot of politics, but there's a possibility of a fight - either between the attendees, or if the Akatsuki use that moment to interfere." He pauses, having run out of pre-rehearsed words. "If you're not interested, there is still intelligence I want to pass on."

As much as he loathes Danzo, he's not, actually, planning on starting any fights, himself.

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"Hmm. We would be leaving now?"

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"We have a few days before I'd absolutely need to leave under my own power, you're faster than me, and it's probably best to not lurk too long in the area beforehand, so no."

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"Then I'll meet you at your base in a few days."

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"Right." He'll just give her the politics summary then, when he's sorted it out in his head more.

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She turns her head to look at the other visitor.

"And who are you?"

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"Uchiha Itachi," she says, voice soft but firm. "A guard."

(Striking the balancing act of 'threatening enough to be a guard, nonthreatening enough to not inspire backlash against Sasuke' has been... Interesting, especially given the complications from her reputation and the way she switched sides.)

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"Uchiha? Any relation?"

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"His older sister."

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"Interesting. Well, run along then."

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Sasuke snorts, turns, and waves lazily back over his shoulder as he walks off. "See you then."

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Itachi sends Ellisaria a longer, more unimpressed look, but follows him.

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Another Uchiha, hm. This makes three. And why has she not met this sister before? Come out of hiding to fight the dire threat the world faces, perhaps. This had better not shape into another Windrunner drama, that would be the last thing she needs.

She has a few days to kill before the meeting. She goes looking for the wolf spirit.

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Okami is lounging outside a mountain temple complex that has a few monks coming and going, a few pilgrims, a few less determined visitors, but isn't all that crowded. She nods towards a clearing when Ellisaria comes into view, and then flops over onto her side.

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She lands in the indicated clearing.

"Hello again. I trust you have been well?"

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"Well enough. There's been more pilgrims lately. People seem worried."

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"Things are moving in the mortal world. The bijuu are being collected by one faction, and forces begin to marshal which would oppose them."

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"Humans are idiots," is her sage opinion. "How many do they have?"

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"Seven. Isobu and Kurama's jinchuuriki remain free."

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"Hm. More than anyone's managed before. I can see why the head monk here was talking about breaking neutrality..."

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"The mortals are holding a summit to begin their preparations. I plan to attend, and I wanted to extend an invitation to you or a representative. Times of strife such as these offer opportunity to place parties in your debt that you might not otherwise have access to."

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"My usual policy is staying out of human affairs, and if they're smart they stay out of mine. But humans do have a history of deciding matters that affects non-humans without our input. I'll talk to the monks here; it might be time to change that."

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"I will be leaving in a few days. Come find me before then if you wish to join."

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"Perhaps one of us should check if Isobu wishes to be represented. Assuming he can shrink to fit in the humans' tiny little buildings."

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"I intended to pay a visit to him next."

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"Good." She lays her head on her paws and swishes her tail. "I'll see you I suppose, if I decide to come."

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"Until later, then. Farewell." She takes off, and heads for Isobu's lake.

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There's no shinobi visible on guard - though they're still there. Isobu seems to be sunning himself in the shallows, and he waves his tails when Ellisaria comes by.

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She lands.

"Hello, Isobu. Has the jinchuuriki been by?"

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"No. Have you seen him?"

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"I have not, but that is not terribly surprising. Are you much aware of events in the humans' world?"

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"I haven't been asking, but they sometimes talk to each other where I can hear."

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"They plan to put together a coalition against the Akatsuki. I have been invited to attend, and I have extended that to Okami of Unarida. I was wondering if you would be interested in accompanying us as well."

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He lifts his top shell a bit and rustles his tails in what seems to be a shrug. "I don't like talking to humans that much... The scientists aren't too bad, but most shinobi are. And I don't like being small, really."

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"Understandable. I simply wished to offer you the chance to decide, if no one else did."

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He nods. "Thanks. I don't want them deciding stuff for me, but I don't think they'll listen enough..."

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"Then I'll just have to be sure to speak loudly."

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"That'd be good. You're very assertive. I don't think I am..."

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"A necessary consequence of living with my dragonflight for as long as I have. If you don't protect your own interests, no one will."

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"Maybe," he says, voice thoughtful. "And none of the others can talk. So maybe I should go..."

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"I would enjoy your company and it might be good for the humans to face a reminder of who exactly they have been enslaving all these years. But it is, of course, entirely your decision."

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He's quiet for a bit, then: "I'll come, maybe. I can always leave I guess if they're mean..."

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"Or swing back. You have a few days to think it over. We will be traveling with Sasuke and his group."

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"He's interesting," Isobu acknowledges. "Alright. Thanks for the heads up."

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"I'll come by again when it's time to go."

And back home she goes.

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Isobu waves, then settles back into his lake.

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Two days later, Okami bounds up, two humans in monk's robes on her back.

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"Greetings. Are you bringing both of them?"

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"Yes. I was going to bring just Tetsuri, but they said if we're breaking neutrality they should train a successor in politics and stuff."

She'll introduce her companions - Tetsuri, who looks like a young woman but carries themselves like someone much older, and Shikou, who looks like and probably is a gangly teenager.

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"Well met to you both. Isobu tentatively agreed to join us. I am going to meet him at his lake, and go from there to the base of the leader of the shinobi in this country, Sasuke."

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"Well met," Tetsuri echoes. "I've met him. He's interestingly ambitious. We'll accompany you; it's impolite to spring a new delegation on everyone."

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"Can you keep up?" she asks Okami.

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"I'm as fast as the wind if I want to be," she says, voice amused.

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"Fair enough." Off to the lake.

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Okami keeps pace easily, though the boy on her back doesn't seem happy.

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Isobu's there - and he's shrunk himself down, until he's about the size of a horse. He looks uncomfortable.

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"Are you ready to go?"

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"Yeah. I've been practicing being small. I'm not fast on land, though, even when I'm big..."

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"Hm. I could carry you, if you can hold on."

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"I can stick to stuff with chakra."

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"Climb on, then."

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He'll do so, somewhat gingerly.

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She takes off slowly, and after confirming his grip is secure, they can proceed to Sasuke's base.

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Sasuke's waiting for them, with Itachi and Karin. He inclines his head when they arrive, and says, "All three of you are intending to represent yourselves?"

Okami and Isobu make assorted agreeable sounds.

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"I assume you have no objections."

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"No. I'd suggest you three present as your own political bloc. The Kage will be inclined to see you as extensions of my political power; openly presenting politics different from mine would help against that, and I really don't care about particulars beyond people not killing each other over stupid things."

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"Sensible. Our interests are aligned and centered on different points than yours."

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"The meeting's in the Land of Iron. We'll be meeting Konan at their borders, then seeing if we can get actual permission to enter. Politely." He might be wrinkling his nose a bit.

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"That leaves room for escalation later. Very well."

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"It'll damage our argument if we enter violently, too. Konan and I are trying to express that the smaller nations deserve a place on the world stage. Which means acting like we belong."

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"A good strategy."

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He nods. "Ready to go?"

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"Lead the way."

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He summons one of his faster large hawks.

The Land of Iron, where the summit's being held, is to their north, traditionally held to be on another continent even though it's technically contiguous with this one, across the giant bay that forms the continent's northern shoreline. They could skirt around to the West to stay over land, and that's likely what most of the Kage are doing, but they have fliers and can easily cross the water.

Konan meets them on the northern shore of Rice Fields, apparently on her own, born by her own paper wings. Crossing the sea is fairly easy, and they soon enough meet ice fields. The Land of Iron proper is in the tundra beyond, and Sasuke lands them near a port city. After some discussion with the samurai there they're allowed through, and continue on to Three Wolves Mountain, where the summit is. They pause outside, Isobu sliding off Ellisaria's back, and Konan touches the ground, summoning two of her followers. She then glances at Sasuke and the others.

"Any modifications to our approach I should be aware of?" Konan asks.

Sasuke shakes his head. "Though even though we're presenting as two separate blocs, we should probably enter together."

She nods. "Makes it harder for them to argue against our inclusion one-by-one."

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"There is strength in numbers. Let us proceed."

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The entrance tunnel is narrow enough they can't all walk in together with their own parties; he solves this by having his guards linger at the back (Konan and Okami do the same), making it easier for them to enter together.

They're challenged at the entrance, two samurai stepping to block their path while a man with dark skin and white hair dressed in loose white robes with a yellow triangular hat on the table in front of him stands and twists, demanding, "What is the meaning of this?"

Konan steps forward, and says, mildly, "You appear to have forgotten to invite us."

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"You have gathered to discuss the problem of the Akatsuki and their activities. This concerns more than simply your so-called Five Great Villages. We," she indicates herself, Okami, and Isobu, "have come to represent the interests of the world."

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"Rain has the greatest knowledge of the Akatsuki," Sasuke says, "And Sound's just after them."

"I don't see what two villages of traitors have to bring," a bandaged man before a red hat says, voice mild.

Sasuke sends him a look of tightly leashed anger. "I don't think you want me reading off a list of Konoha's crimes," he says, sharply. Then, a deep breath, and: "I have intelligence on the false Madara who has laid claim to the organization, as well." He glaces at the older man at the flat edge of the n-shaped table. "All of the villages on this continent and its neighbors are under threat if the Akatsuki succeeds in its goals."

Konan steps forward, then. "The wheels turn elsewhere. Let us in."

The youngest of the Kage, a redhaired teen about Sasuke's age in dark red clothes with a green hat, says, "I agree with them. The Five Nations only hold that title for historic reasons. Ignoring the smaller nations was how we got this problem, in the first place."

The woman to his right snorts, and leans back. "I'm not very interested in dealing with a bunch like them. But I'm more interested in them than in you lot, so."

The only Kage who hasn't spoken yet, an old man, just humphs.

The man Sasuke had glanced at raises his hand. "As the arbiter of this meeting, I rule to allow it."

That seems to quiet the opposition, and the man gestures for chairs to be brought forth so all five new representatives can sit (cushions are brought for Isobu and Okami). Konan, Sasuke, and Okami's guards are directed to stand at the edges of the room. A few wary looks are sent Itachi, Sasuke, and Konan's ways from the guards on the sidelines.

Introductions are made: the man serving as arbiter is Mifune, leader of the samurai of the Land of Iron. The woman is Terumi Mei, Mizukage. To her left is the teenaged Kage is Gaara, Kazekage. To Gaara's left is the bandaged old man Sasuke dislikes - Shimura Danzo, interim Hokage. The quiet old man to Danzo's left is Onoki, Tsuchikage. The dark-skinned man to Onoki's left who first demanded to know their business is A, Raikage.

Okami and Isobu are seated in the gaps between the n shape of the main table and the short segment at its open end where Mifune sits. Sasuke is seated to the Mizukage's right, Konan to the Raikage's left, and Ellisaria is allowed to choose her own position.

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She takes her chair next to Isobu, opposite the Mizukage.

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"The balance of powers has shifted a lot," Gaara begins, folding his hands on front of him. "Most of us haven't been leaders for very long, as these things go. The Akatsuki seems primed to take advantage of the changing times... Or cause them. They're a threat to the world, more than most of the villages seem willing to acknowledge. I was the host of the One Tailed Shukaku, once, and they nearly destroyed my village and almost killed me in extracting him."

(Isobu shifts, clearly uncomfortable.)

"Villages too weak to keep ahold of their Tailed Beasts shouldn't be making a big deal of it. They should just seek to get them back, quietly, without showing off their weakness," Onoki says, huffing.

"And that kind of secrecy is why it's taken so long for people to realize the true threat of the Akatsuki," Sasuke says, dryly.

"You're all ones to talk!" A booms. "The Akatsuki rose because of your villages - Sand, Leaf, Stone, Mist all used them as mercenaries in their wars. Rain - I don't know why you're here, or why Hanzo allows it. Sound - your last leader was a member of Akatsuki, and it's unclear if he ever left, and you have the audacity to bring a known member as a guard."

"You might have noticed I killed Orochimaru," Sasuke says. "And I can answer your question easily enough - he left the Akatsuki eight years ago. As for Itachi... She's one of mine, and I'm sure of her loyalty to me."

"Strange," Mei says, voice mild. "When she's rumored to be a clan-killer."

Sasuke shrugs, clearly faking nonchalance even if there's an undercurrent of anger in his shoulders. "What she has or hasn't done is my business, as her clan head and commander."

Konan raises a hand, disrupting the forming argument, and turns to A. "The question of Rain's involvement is complex. Hanzo, for one, has been dead well over a decade. We removed him during the Third War. At the time, we were a group of revolutionaries... A man calling himself Uchiha Madara approached us, offered us aid in exchange for us helping with his mercenary group between missions of our own. He poured poison in the ears of our last leader. I disentangled us upon our last leader's death, and I made it clear that anyone loyal to the Akatsuki who steps foot in my country will be killed."

"Madara!" Onoki exclaims. "Is he truly such a monster? He should've been dead decades ago."

"...That's not Madara..." Isobu mutters, voice quiet.

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"Not Madara," Ellisaria says for Isobu. "An imposter who trades upon the name to save himself the trouble of building a reputation of his own."

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Onoki 'hmphs.' "A coward, then."

Mei ignores him, turning to Konan. "If you were allied once with this fake Madara - which I'd believe - do you know his plans? Or - there's a question, remaining from the time of the Fourth Mizukage. He's said to have been controlled, and the Akatsuki was suspected..."

Konan turns to her. "I don't know every plot he's ever had in motion, and I'm unsure of his machinations in Mist. But his plan for the Tailed Beasts was to create a super weapon; he claimed with it he could bring eternal peace."

Sasuke hums. "The Fourth Mizukage was a jinchuuriki, right?" At Mei's nod, he continues. "The false Madara is an Uchiha, and one capable of controlling the Tailed Beasts - it's possible that's a quirk of some sharingan, or that he was Madara's student, or otherwise put together his teachings. It might be possible to control a jinchuuriki if you had enough control over the Tailed Beast..."

"War for peace," Mei says, voice bitter. "All the blood spilled in Mist and beyond. I suppose he doesn't care for anyone who fails to live to see his peace."

Isobu shifts, says, "Um... He might... Just be saying that... If you combined all of us, I don't think you'd get a very good weapon..."

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Okami raises her head, speaking up for the first time. "Isobu's too young to remember, but he's right. The Tailed Beasts were once one being, a monster with Ten Tails - and I use 'monster' literally. It doesn't seem to have been sapient. It was made somehow by a powerful woman, Kaguya, who came from neither the world of men nor the world of spirits, and who used it to conquer the entirety of this world. The Ten Tails can only be controlled by its original maker; even your beloved Sage of Six Paths failed to tame it - the most he could do was break it into nine parts upon its defeat. The battle against it and its master lasted three days and reshaped the world. You humans don't have nearly as many mighty heroes nor great spirits helping as last time, so I doubt such a war would go as well this time."

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"Which means it is necessary that you come together now to fight the man you can kill before his power grows beyond you. The time for bickering and recriminations about past actions is over. Look to the future now, or you will not have one."

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The Raikage surges to his feet, punching the table - and the guards from the sidelines all move to surround their leaders. The Raikage, though, doesn't attack, merely shouts, "Quit all this yapping!"

Mifune frowns at him. "I know tensions are high, but please refrain from such displays of rudeness," as the other leaders have their guards stand down. 

A snorts. "I don't trust a single one of you. Employing the Akatsuki, letting your missing-nin run off to join their ranks - working as them - accepting one of theirs - and I have no intention of speaking so politely with any of you! In fact, I'd like to find out where your true loyalties lie!"

"The Akatsuki had good results, and we didn't know at the time they were any different from the thousands of other mercenary teams," Onoki says, leaning back and harrumphing. "The villages were in a time of relative peace, and it made no sense to keep a large active army - but the way you kept militarizing was making people nervous, about what if another great war broke out... It's safer to employ mercenaries for some things, and to have contacts to supplement your own forces in the event of a conflict. It's bad, to risk untried forces in a new war."

A scowls. "I don't want to hear your excuses, Fence-Sitter!" And to the corner of the room including Gaara, Sasuke, and Danzo: "I don't believe Orochimaru was dissociated from Akatsuki - and Sand used him to try and destroy the Leaf. While both the Hokage and Kazekage at the time died, I can't help but believe it was someone's plot..." He glances briefly at Danzo as he says this.

Sasuke snorts. "You have an interesting view of events. I don't mind handing out access to Orochimaru's records, myself. He hated the Hokage of his own accord, and it can be said to have been his plot - the invasion was thoroughly his idea."

"It's hard to say if you, Rain, or Mist is the most suspicious," A retorts. "Mist has no diplomatic ties with other countries... Rain admits to being tied to the early Akatsuki... Sound is very thoroughly entangled, and stole away one of Mist's Tailed Beasts."

Mei leans forward, waving her hand dismissively. "Eh, the jinchuuriki were a mistake, and I'm more annoyed about the Swordsmen-candidates he seduced away. And, Sasuke, what do you say we open diplomatic ties - I want my swords back. In exchange, I'll write off my soldiers who joined you as honorably released from duty."

Sasuke nods. "That sounds reasonable."

She turns to A then, smiling. "See? We have plenty of diplomacy."

A makes an incoherent sound of rage.

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The Raikage is the biggest and loudest person here. Among dragons, this would also mean he is the most powerful. For humans... Well. He certainly thinks he is the strongest. She stares at him.

"You remind me of a human king I knew once. His father had been weak, and so the tribe of forest trolls that neighbored the kingdom had grown bold, raiding their crops and villages as they pleased. When the king took his father's crown, he was determined that the forest trolls would trouble him no longer. He gathered his army and marched into the forest, and burned it to the ground, along with all the trolls who lived there. The next year, cousins of the trolls invaded his land by the sea, for the forest that had insulated him from the coast was gone, and he had no wood left with which to build ships. His kingdom was destroyed, and the trolls planted a new forest on the graves of he and his people."

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"You brat - " the Raikage snarls, but is cut off by Mifune raising his hand.

"Enough," he says, and the Raikage relaxes with a grumble.

"We aren't here to argue," the Kazekage says, leaning forwards. "Nor to insult each other. We're all well aware of how dangerous the Akatsuki are. Even if the man leading them isn't Madara - that's a dangerous name, and speaks of confidence. Even if it's unearned, a reckless enough person could cause a lot of problems. And there's only two bijuu not held captive by them at this point; they're close enough to whatever goal they have that we can't let them continue." He pauses, looks around. "When the Akatsuki attacked us, only Leaf answered our call for aid. When the Akatsuki attacked the Leaf, only the Sand, the Sound, and an independent came. That can't be allowed to continue." He spreads his hands. "Surely you're all aware the villages were founded for a reason. Alliances to end the constant fighting. Clans stronger together than apart. Such a dramatic solution as a full merge isn't called for here, but we need to coordinate more than we are. All of us."

"Perhaps not a political merge," Mifune says. "But your villages would be benefited by combining your resources more than you do in mere alliances."

Konan frowns. "I'd be leery of giving up my village's independence... As I'm sure all of us would."

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"Sorting out politics can be a problem for the future. Bickering over power balances won't help us, and treaties are barely worth anything anyways. I'd hand off all the power I've accumulated if it'd get people to stop being idiots about fighting, and my people's independence can always be regained. Power, ideals of government... They're temporary. The losses from war aren't."

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"Point," Konan says, nodding. "Very well. I'll support the alliance, then - but Rain won't bow forever."

"None of us will," the Mizukage says, crossing her arms. "But it's not a bad idea. Still... We have centralized power for a reason, instead of a council of clan heads. Someone would have to sit at top, and Mifune doesn't strike me as interested."

"I'm not," the man says, voice a bit wry.

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"You require someone who knows your went enemy, who is experienced in the ways of war, and who you can agree to defer to."

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"All three? That's none of us," the Mizukage says, voice amused. "Knows the enemy... Is pretty much our two baby-faces, and Konan. Ways of war? Onoki and A have led their nations through war before. I've led insurgent forces, as has Konan. Danzo's stuck his fingers where they don't belong. Agree to follow? Most of us have too much bad blood."

"Would you accept my judgement, as the ultimate arbiter here?" Mifune asks, and after a pause there's a few slow nods.

He hums, and looks around, and there's a strange shift in the air barely felt -

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Sasuke's sharingan flares to life and he spins, staring at Danzo.

"You - "

The odd feeling in the air shatters, and it's like there were mutterings they can just now hear. Mifune reels, clutching his head, and Sasuke leaps to his feet. "I would assume," he snarls, when the others start to react, "Using genjutsu counts as a hostile action here."

"Your accusation is absurd!" Danzo spits back, his guards moving to flank him. "I'm not the one here who has a family history of genjutsu mastery - nor a personal history of treachery."

Sasuke goes very, very still. "You know," he says, sharply. "I'm well aware of your bloodline theft. The sharingan doesn't need Uchiha blood to wield. And the most powerful of the abilities you stole - to entirely rewrite the mind of your target. At least, in Shisui's hands. Yours seems weaker."

"Baseless accusations and hyperbole - " Danzo begins, but the Mizukage leans forward and interrupts him.

"Why don't you show us what's under your bandage, then?" she asks mildly, "If it isn't a sharingan eye. This is easy enough to disprove."

Danzo seems more incensed by the suggestion than liable to go along with it.

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"Isobu," she says to the bijuu next to her, "what does his chakra feel like?"

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"Uhhhhhh lots of things. Kind of like an old human, and kind of like that Senju who caught us, and kind of like an Uchiha, and kind of like bits of other people..." Isobu mutters, but still is loud enough to be heard clearly.

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"I wasn't going to push it, but Orochimaru did keep records of his dealings with you, Danzo," Sasuke says.

"Sounds like quite a bit of bloodline theft. Still, I'm inclined to leave that to his own people..." the Mizukage muses. "Not really my problem if the Leaf can't clean house."

"And you would believe that thing?" Danzo demands.

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"That 'thing' is a Tailed Beast, a guardian of this world, charged so by your Sage of the Six Paths. And he has a name. It is Isobu. You owe him your respect."

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Sasuke nods, crossing his arms and scowling, though Danzo humphs.

The Kazekage sighs. "Let's get this distraction over with. I agree that you should remove your bandages."

Mifune recovers himself, and says, "I won't tolerate a fight here - but whoever was responsible for that will be told to leave. And, Danzo, Sasuke wasn't the one looking at me."

Danzo scowls and stands. "I will remove myself, then, rather than subject myself to a child's whims."

Mifune nods. "Very well. My men will see you out."

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"A child you are, as well as a coward, then, whining when your elders swat a toy from your hands."

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He seems fairly enraged by that, but he tamps it back down. "You're a crass upstart, and not someone I'm beholden to entertain, girl," he says, turning to leave.

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And just as he gets out of sight, a female voice shouts, "You!" 

There's quickly the sounds of indistinct arguing.

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"Oh dear," the Mizukage says. "Sounds like drama. Anyone else interested in watching?"

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"It seems prudent to know what is coming this way."

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Sasuke sighs, and glances at Karin.

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"It's Senju Tsunade. Fifth Hokage. Guess she woke up," Karin says, lightly. "She feels pretty annoyed."

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"Maybe she'll punch him through the wall," the Mizukage says cheerily, and stands. "I've wanted to speak to her. Come, Ao, Chojuro, let's see what's going on."

The Raikage grumbles about distractions, but the Kazekage's standing as well, and the Tsuchikage seems content to sit there with his arms crossed.

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Ellisaria does want to see, herself.

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Things haven't come to blows yet, but it looks like Tsunade's furious at Danzo over something related to his ascension to interim Hokage.

When the Mizukage steps into the auditorium, Mei says, voice still cheery, "Who wants to be the one to tell her about the bloodline theft accusations?"

Tsunade twitches, says, voice dangerous, "What."

"Preposterous, made up - " Danzo begins.

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"Uchiha at the very least. Senju as well, possibly a smattering of others."

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"Danzo? Bandages off, or I will get that information from your corpse," Tsunade snarls.

"We should talk about this not in front of foreign powers," Danzo says, stiffly, but he's reaching for his bandages.

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"So you can hypnotize her without anyone trying to stop you?" Sasuke asks, from where he's leaning against the entrance. (He left his guards with Isobu, but Okami has come to stick her big furry head in, too.)

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"I think they already have enough information," Tsunade says. "Bandages off."

Danzo nods, stiffly, and pulls the bandage away from his eye - 

Revealing a sharingan.

"I did what was necessary for the village - " he begins.

"Nope," is Tsunade's only response. "You? Are under arrest."

"Very well," is his only response, as his fingers twist - and then quite a few things explode, and he takes off through a new hole in the roof.

Tsunade wastes no time in pursuing him, shouting invective. 

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She seems to have the matter in hand, then.

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Her guards, a pink haired girl Sasuke's age and Nara Shikaku, are also taking care of Danzo's guards rather handily, apparently focusing on capture over killing.

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Sasuke follows Tsunade and Danzo, apparently intent on providing backup. (Or getting plausibly deniable revenge. He does have some rights, as a clan head.)

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And there's shouting from the conference room - the Raikage's voice loudest, bellowing something indistinct, Isobu crying out - 

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She spins, blinks back into the room, a cloak of flame already billowing around her and more magic gathering in her fist-

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There's a laughing plant creature in the center, who seems to be currently taunting the Raikage, and the false Madara is trying to corner Isobu, and having very little luck against Tetsuri, who's drawing flaming symbols in the air and weaving glowing lines around, that keep catching him whenever he teleports in. Still, they're having just as little luck actually damaging him, and he's able to easily keep everyone else off his back.

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She breathes a stream of shadowflame at the plant elemental. With the magic in her hand, she opens a portal to the center of her lair at her side. It's small, there's no ley network for her to hook into to enlarge it, but it does open. A rush of lava pours out at her call, shaping into a figure that wades into the fight against Madara.

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Plant elemental drops into the floor, laughing and avoiding Ellisaria's flame.

The masked man manages to get his hand on Isobu - and reels back when black fire lances from Itachi to surround his robes and mask -

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And a gust of wind, and Okami's head manifests to clamp her jaws around his arm, the rest of her body fading in only in wisps as she shakes him.

But something bursts from his arm, forcing her back, and he swirls and vanishes.

Okami finishes materializing, snarling and swinging her head back and forth, then she vanishes into the wind again.

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Responding to her will, her elemental moves to cover Isobu's back while she wards his front.

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Nothing else appears, the plant elemental and the masked man both apparently gone for now. 

The Raikage shouts something about it saying his brother was alive, and he needs to go search, he doesn't have time for this nonsense - 

The Kazekage had returned alongside Ellisaria, though he hadn't been able to help much, and he tells the Raikage he understands his concerns, really, but tearing off to search all over the countryside will hardly help - 

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"There's a problem," Tetsuri interrupts. "The masked man stole some of Isobu's chakra. I don't know how useful it'll be to him..."

"Then it's all the more important I secure my brother!" the Raikage shouts.

Tetsuri crosses their arms. "I think I can speak for Okami when I say assistance in looking is on the table for negotiations - she's a good tracker, and literally as fast as the wind."

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"If they knew this summit was occurring and who would be attending, disrupting it is almost certainly one of their goals. You running off alone would accomplish that neatly, added to those who went chasing after the old man. If your brother is still alive and free, it is likely they do not know where he is any more than you given they attacked us instead of focusing on him. Or they might simply have been lying."

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He harrumphs, but backs down - though he does send one of his two guards out with a message.

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"Danzo hasn't gotten far; they're fighting him just outside, but he keeps flickering every time they strike a fatal blow. If my guess on what's causing that's right, he'll be actually dead in about five minutes. His guards are already down."

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"Good, then it will be over soon."

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There's a resounding crash, and a few seconds later Tsunade comes stalking in a good two minutes before Karin's deadline. (Ripping Danzo's arm off handily disrupted his ability to spam sharingan bullshit). 

Her guards go to join the others at the perimeter of the room as she sits in Danzo's vacated seat, setting the hat Danzo'd had (with only a few blood splatters) on the table in front of her and leaning back, crossing her arms and scowling.

"Anyone mind explaining what the hell happened?" she asks as Sasuke takes his seat as well.

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"Beginning from where?"

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"There was a fight here while I was fighting Danzo, to begin. For another - why was this Summit called, and what has been discussed?"

Mifune brings her up to speed, and Tsunade hums, leaning back and scanning the room. "Well. Nice to know politics hasn't changed. You're all still a bunch of idiots. We need to work together. So, we will. Someone needs to lead the group; no one here is an ideal combination of trustworthy, experienced, and knowledgeable, so we need to decide what we're compromising on."

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Finally. A mortal voice of reason.

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"You're as bratty as ever," the Tsuchikage grumbles. "You'd usually be a good candidate, Tsunade... You weren't associated with Konoha during the Third War, or even until the last few years, but you carried yourself well in the Second War. But I'm not sure I'd be willing to trust the Leaf as a whole after what Danzo's pulled."

"There's little he's pulled that any of us wouldn't have attempted given the tools," the Mizukage says, voice bored, chin resting on her hand. "You've done plenty of underhanded things yourself, old man."

"I've never violated the ground rules of a Summit," he snaps back. "That's a step too far. We need to trust these things for them to do anything at all."

"Danzo's actions weren't sanctioned by my administration," Tsunade says, leaning back. "But I can understand your wariness. Honestly, us old guard probably all have too much bad blood... I know I have plenty of people who hate me still, even just from the Second War. Which, for trust, leaves us with the newest generation - and perhaps the Mizukage, given how little she's been involved in any of her predecessor's actions."

"Eh, I'd rather hand the position off to that wolf than take it myself," the Mizukage drawls. "Assuming she comes back - I presume she's still chasing that masked man? She certainly has a record of neutrality."

"Then I understand you're removing yourself from consideration?" Mifune asks, and the Mizukage nods.

There's a round of fervent discussion - mostly from the Kage - which Mifune cuts off.

He steeples his fingers. "Very well. There's concerns for each of you - those here to represent the 'earth's concerns' should not be given dominion over human forces, due to different tactics needed by us and different concerns. That removes Okami, Isobu, and Ellisaria from consideration. Of the those here to represent the minor villages - Konan is too entangled to be trusted in fully opposing the Akatsuki. I recuse myself, in my role as arbiter. Sasuke is young, untested, and has a history of conflict with others - as well as a deep association with Orochimaru and the Akatsuki. I would consider myself, Sasuke, and Konan removed from consideration, though somewhat more tentatively."

He pauses, then: "Of the Great Five, the Mizukage has removed herself. The Tsuchikage is known for carrying grudges, and there are natural concerns about his age. I would judge him removed from consideration. The Raikage is skilled, and knowledgeable, but I would judge his temper and history of militarization during peacetime remove him from consideration. That leaves the Hokage and Kazekage. The Hokage is more tested than the Kazekage, but has more enemies. The Kazekage has shown himself to be reasonable, but lacks a good portion of needed knowledge..."

He turns then to Isobu, Ellisaria, Konan, and Sasuke. "Of course, I've heard the opinions of the Kage at length. Do any of you four have something to add to my analysis?"

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"Experience is what is needed. This Hokage put a stop to the treachery of the last. That is well enough."

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Isobu mumbles an agreement, while Konan says, "I have no particular impression of either."

Sasuke says, "Both have come off as reasonable to me."

Mifune nods. "I hear your words. Then my decision, presuming ratification from those who will follow - is Senju Tsunade for the commander of the Allied Shinobi Forces."

Sasuke quickly gives his own ratification, and after some grumbling from the Raikage the others follow.

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Ellisaria assents. That's one problem down.

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She agrees to the post - 

And next comes a debate about the jinchuuriki and Isobu.

The Tsuchikage is in favor of requiring them to serve on the front lines. The Raikage is in favor of hiding them - even if it means restraining them. The other Kage are in between.

Konan's of the opinion hiding them will force Akatsuki to throw massive resources into drawing them out - but that both Killer B and Naruto would quickly leave whatever hiding place, making it not that effective a strategy.

Mifune's of the opinion the army is going to be juggling enough raw power as it is...

And Sasuke thinks he can fairly effectively hide someone, and can probably keep Naruto entertained long enough, but they'll need all they can get on the front lines...

(Isobu is not at all eager to actually fight).

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The bijuu are not weapons, despite the mistake the shinobi have been making for the last hundred years. Present the full situation to the jinchuuriki and tell them to make their choice, fight directly or serve to waste Akatsuki's resources. They will be more effective in either role with willing cooperation.

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Sasuke glances at Isobu, who speaks up that he's fine forcing the Akatsuki to find him - though he's not sure if the masked man grabbed enough chakra to matter.

Still - "That's probably going to end with the lowest chance of those two going rogue," Sasuke says.

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"Which would be a pain in the ass we don't want to handle. They pick their division, and they keep us damn well updated as to their positions." She stares down the assembly until they agree.

Then, to Ellisaria: "Most of the rest of this will be squabbling about how we combine our forces and who's in charge of which regiment. Here's the safest place for Isobu currently, but you lack followers last I checked - it might be more useful for you to attend to other tasks for now."

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"Did you have anything in particular in mind?"

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"I don't know what sorts of defenses you could spread elsewhere - it might make sense for you to help fortify wherever we're putting Isobu and either of the jinchuuriki who agree to stay behind. It might make sense for you to claim a stretch of border to hold - the Mountain's Graveyard seems a likely place for the Akatsuki to be hiding anything major, given that almost no one has eyes on it. It might make sense to try to roll you into our own forces, and get each other familiar with each other's fighting style."

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"I need time to properly prepare an area. If you know where you will be protecting them I can begin work there. Otherwise, I will expand the holding I have."

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"I don't think our enemy will give us much time. I'd ask you to expand on what you've already started, then, especially if you don't mind providing a place for a field hospital."

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"Very well."

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"Do you have a distance communication method with Sasuke already?"

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"I do. I'm sure he'll be willing to share it with you."

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"I can handle passing along any messages, yes, and look into integrating our networks with yours temporarily."

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She nods. "Another thing - one of our clans has mental abilities. This can be spread to a generalized telepathy. Getting that boosted enough to cover army coordination is going to be a major goal. It'll be purely voluntary thoughts sent; do you have any objection to being contacted over such a network?"

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There is an almost imperceptible pause. "That should be fine."

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"Alright. I don't need anything else from you for now."

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"Contact me when you do."

She says farewell to Isobu, and tells Tetsuri to ask Okami to contact her when they return. And then she flies home.

She's soaked enough mana into earth here to call up perhaps a dozen elementals. If she exhausts herself continuously over the next few days, she might be able to raise that to twenty. She has several mana gems prepared earlier, as a sensible contingency. This is the sort of event that becomes contingent, so she retrieves them and keeps them on her person. When she needs to begin fighting instead of fortifying, she will be able to do so at full strength almost instantly.

For now, she needs to spread her influence. This dovetails nicely with the other objective. The process is fairly simply. She pulls magma up from beneath her lair, works it for a period of time to suffuse it with her mana, then sends it pumping out belowground to lurk beneath other mountains of the chain for when she needs it. This causes several of them to crack their peak and begin leaking. None erupt destructively, she's well practiced enough to see to that. At the same time, she reshapes the main rooms of her lair into a sort of basis for a medical facility. Broad, flat spaces, rows of stone bunks, tables, storage areas. These seem like useful things. They'll have to bring their own supplies, but that's a given.

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They end up deciding to put their primary headquarters in Lightning, far from anything else, with the Raikage overseeing it. 

Each of the Kage and Jounin Commanders who join their forces will lead a regiment. Sasuke is put in charge of the eastern borders around the Mountain's Graveyard. The Tsuchikage in charge of making sure nothing comes down from the north, of securing his own massive territory, and in defending the northern border of the four small nations Konan has revealed are still allied to Akatsuki - which are sandwiched between remote and rarely patrolled borders of Earth and Wind to their north and south, and Rain and the ocean to their east and west. Gaara will defend along the southern border there, and along his own eastern border with the Land of Rivers. Tsunade, with her village's central location, will defend on the Land of Fire's few hostile border but will primarily focus on backing up the others with mobile units. The Mizukage will lead the regiment defending the Daimyo - in the Land of Water itself, where after some discussion they agree to have Isobu moved. He'll both be part of the Daimyo Protection Squad and a protected individual, and he'll be more powerful in his home environment. Konan, alongside Mifune, has offered to join Tsunade - and has brought up the Rinnegan, and Tsunade has agreed to the concept of helping reinforce security around Nagato's body. Mifune will also help the Tsuchikage in defending Earth's northern border.

Protocols for boosting the Yamanaka's telepathic techniques are easy with the Raikage's help.

Things happen very quickly after that - 

An army of the dead begins to rise in the northern wastes, in the Mountain's Graveyard, in the little nations - in places they hadn't know were allied to Akatsuki - in hidden bases - 

The Allied Shinobi Forces army numbers well over eighty thousand.

They haven't counted their enemies, yet, but this looks like the Edo Tensei, a technique to rewrite a sacrifice with a target dead person - who will regenerate all damage dealt, and never run out of chakra.

The Allied army, led by Sasuke, arrives at the border, with supplies for Ellisaria's field hospital, before the zombies do, at least.

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So it begins.

She shows the medics who will be manning the hospital around the workspace. If they have any minor modifications to request, she might be able to accommodate them.

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Nothing they need can't be accommodated easily.

There's a lot of tension, and soon enough Sasuke's battalion arrives at the front. They seem more inclined to hold their borders for now than to press aggressively, and Sasuke approaches Ellisaria once he arrives.

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"You have new information for me?"

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"Some."

He explains the Edo Tensei, its strengths (many) and weaknesses (few), and that the perpetrator seems to be Kabuto, one of his predecessor's loyalists who got away. They're trying to build on their seals to better handle the undead, but they think realistically their best bet is finding wherever Kabuto's hidden himself and force him to dismiss the technique. If their current search plans don't pan out quickly, Ellisaria carrying Karin in a search pattern isn't a bad fall back if she's willing.

Also, Naruto's gone missing in a way that suggests it wasn't Akatsuki's fault. They're looking, but it's become a lot more likely Akatsuki will be able to recreate the Juubi, if they catch up to him first.

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She can assist with searching.

"Weren't you going to talk to him to avoid exactly this outcome?"

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"He vanished off the street in a cloud of smoke. It looks like he was summoned by the frogs he has a contract with - but none of us can easily reach their mountain to check."

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"Have you asked the monks?"

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"Yes. They think they can contact the frogs, but the mountain isn't fully continuous with this world."

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"I won't be of much help with that, then."

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He nods. "If you happen to see him, we wouldn't mind a heads up, though."

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"I'll keep an eye out. Anything else?"

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